Thursday, September 18, 2014

Podcast: The Venus Zone

This week on the Physics Central Podcast, we take a trip to the Venus Zone. You've heard of the Habitable Zone, yes? That's the region around a star where scientists think a planet would receive just the right amount of radiation to support life. The planet would still need an atmosphere and probably some water, but in the Habitable Zone there's a good chance it would also have a reasonable surface temperature.

Now, a group of researchers have defined a Venus Zone, which lies inside the Habitable Zone. The theory goes that a planet in the Venus Zone will receive too much radiation from the home star: with an atmosphere like Earth's, it would cause a runaway greenhouse effect, causing temperatures to soar. That's what happened on the surface of Venus, where temperatures average about 850 degrees Fahrenheit.

That's the theory, anyway. To find out for certain, scientists need to get a look at some planets beyond our own solar system. Stephen Kane, an astronomer at San Francisco State University, and his colleagues have already identified 43 planets in the Venus Zone, using data from the Kepler Space Telescope. Today on the podcast I'll talk to astronomer Kane about the work he and his colleagues have done defining the Venus Zone, and when they'll know for sure if those 43 planets have similarly inhospitable atmospheres.

Learning about planets that look like Venus would also help in the search for planets that look like Earth. And, it might help us better understand our own climate here at home.

Kane has a great website all about the Venus Zone, so be sure to check it out.

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