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Old 02-17-2013, 03:03 PM   #136
mhgaffney
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Venus Holds picture of baby earth

July 2001

Scientists have found a time machine that will take them back 2.5 billion years. They call it the planet Venus. It turns out conditions on Venus today are analogous to Earth's earliest times in the Archaean and early Proterozoic eras.

These eras are marked by the appearance of the first stable continents and the birth of bacteria. Because of this, Richard Ghail a research associate at the Imperial College in London, says that watching Venus is a way to better understand why and where certain materials formed on Earth, and how life began.

Geologic features such as Earth's oceans and volcanic activity have counterparts on Venus. Looking at Venus' features and studying their development will help pinpoint how and where certain elements are deposited on Earth.

"By understanding the 'early Earth,' we can predict where to find precious resources such as platinum and diamonds," Ghail said.

Venus could point to ET

Great upheaval is the hallmark of early Earth and today's Venus, with volcanic eruptions resurfacing large parts of each planet's terrain. The effect of these events on climate and on life were catastrophic on Earth, and also sparked conditions necessary for major evolutionary diversifications. So Ghail hopes that studying Venus' volcanoes will provide clues to the origins of life on Earth.

"We can also tell what aided life to appear on Earth, which will help us to seek evidence for life elsewhere," Ghail said.

A planet that reinvents itself

Much like Earth 2.5 billion years ago, today's Venus is in a quiet state most of the time, building-up heat underneath its tenuous surface. The heat eventually is unleashed during short periods of intense volcanic activity which entirely remake the planet's surface.

Tectonic forces work to bring about that similarity between Earth and Venus, with terrestrial plates being slowly pushed, not pulled.

Such plate activities, believes Ghail, explain the distribution of today's craters on Venus as well as the major bursts of continental growth on Earth in the late Archaean and early Proterozoic eras.

Low-lying plains at Venus provide another clue to Earth's earliest days, with the Aphrodite Terra plain on Venus resembling today's northern Atlantic Ocean basin. Such similarities may help scientists understand how oceans formed at Earth.

Ghail presented his research at the Earth Systems Processes Conference last week in Edinburgh, Scotland, sponsored by the Geological Society of America and the Geological Society of London.

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