Was Venus once a waterworld?
© J. Whatmore
Yet there is another similarity here. Billions of years ago, Venus probably had much more water. Venus Express has certainly confirmed that the planet has lost a large quantity of water into space.
It happens because ultraviolet radiation from the Sun streams into Venus’ atmosphere and breaks up the water molecules into atoms: two hydrogens and one oxygen. These then escape to space.
Venus Express has measured the rate of this escape and confirmed that roughly twice as much hydrogen is escaping as oxygen. It is therefore believed that water is the source of these escaping ions. It has also shown that a heavy form of hydrogen, called deuterium, is progressively enriched in the upper echelons of Venus’s atmosphere, because the heavier hydrogen will find it less easy to escape the planet’s grip.