Venus: Atmospheric Evolution

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Science  03 Feb 1967:
Vol. 155, Issue 3762, pp. 556-558
DOI: 10.1126/science.155.3762.556


Because of the high temperatures prevailing in the lower atmosphere of Venus, its chemistry is dominated by the tendency toward thermodynamic equilibrium. From the atomic composition deduced spectroscopically, the thermodynamic equilibrium composition of the atmosphere of Venus is computed, and the following conclusions drawn. (i) There can be no free carbon, hydrocarbons, formaldehyde, or any other organic molecule present in more than trace amounts. (ii) The original atomic composition of the atmosphere must have included much larger quantities of hydrogen and a carbon/oxygen ratio ≤ 0.5. (This ratio is now almost precisely 0.5.) (iii) The present atomic proportions of the atmosphere of Venus are so unique that an evolutionary mechanism involving two independent processes seems necessary, as follows. Water, originally present in large quantities, has been photodissociated in the upper atmosphere, and the resulting atomic hydrogen has been lost in space. The resulting excess oxygen has been very effectively bound to the surface materials. (iv) There must be some weathering process, for example, violent wind erosion, to disturb and expose a sufficient quantity of reduced surface material to react with the oxygen produced by photodissociation.