14 Mar 2006

Stardate explores the Mysteries of Venus

Presenter Adam Hart-Davis "on holiday" on Venus

Presenter Adam Hart-Davis "on holiday" on Venus

As the Venus Express spacecraft approaches its destination, Stardate: Mysteries of Venus comes to BBC Two to examine this most intriguing of planets and help find the answers to why a planet the same size, age and of similar composition to Earth has become our almost exact opposite.

Why is it so hot? Could Venus’s runaway greenhouse effect one day happen on Earth? Why does the entire surface of the planet seem to have been resurfaced in one go? And do the opaque clouds that surround Venus host an even greater mystery – alien life?

Presenter Adam Hart-Davis reports from a tense mission control in Germany as the spacecraft is manoeuvred into orbit. He also takes a quick “holiday” to the surface of Venus, as Dr Janet Sumner, a volcanologist from the Open University, replicates Venusian conditions in the lab on Earth: crushing atmospheric pressure 90 times that of Earth, temperature 200 degrees C hotter than a domestic oven, and corrosive clouds of sulphuric acid.

OU Student Myleene Klass observing Venus

OU Student Myleene Klass observing Venus

Janet also visits the barren volcanic island of Lanzarote, resurfaced in a similar fashion to Venus – but only 300 years ago, and Myleene Klass, musician and Open University Astronomy student shows how you can see Venus for yourself.

Dr David Rothery, volcanologist and Chair of the Open University’s Planetary Science courses explains why the study of Venus is so important: “At the birth of the Solar System, there was very little difference between Venus and the Earth. Their size, mass and density are all quite close yet Venus has evolved in an entirely different way.

“Venus lost its water, but and retained a dense carbon dioxide atmosphere. On Earth the carbon dioxide dramatically reduced with the development of life. Unlike Earth, because there is no water, there is no plate tectonics and only sporadic volcanic activity. This means the heat inside the planet is trapped until catastrophic eruptions resurface the whole planet in one go every half billion years or so”.

Stardate: Mysteries of Venus is a fully funded Open University programme which broadcasts on BBC Two at 7.00pm and 11.50pm on Wednesday 12th April.

Editor’s Notes

Information on the previous Stardate programmes including the Royal Television Society award winning Stardate: Transit of Venus can be found at http://www.open2.net

The Open University and BBC have been in partnership for over 30 years providing educational programming to a mass audience. In recent times this partnership has evolved from late night programming for delivering courses to peak time programmes with a broad appeal to encourage wider participation in learning.

The Stardate series of programmes is made by Screenhouse Productions for the Open University and broadcast on BBC TV. The Producer of Stardate: Mysteries of Venus was Patrick Titley and the Executive Producer was Paul Bader.

All broadcast information is correct at time of issue.


Related courses:

- S194 Introducing Astronomy
- S196 Planets: An Introduction
- S197 How the Universe Works
- S199 Modelling the Climate
- S282 Astronomy
- S283 Planetary Science and the Search for Life
- SXR208 Observing The Universe

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