Breakthrough Computer Could Survive Extreme Conditions On Venus


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockFeb 9 2017, 17:34 UTC

A radar reconstruction of the surface of Venus. NASA

We might one day able to launch a new extensive exploration campaign to Venus, as researchers at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Ohio have achieved a circuit that can withstand the extreme conditions of the planet. The research was published in the American Institute of Physics journal AIP Advances.

The circuit board is made of silicon carbide and survived in simulated Venus conditions for 521 hours, 100 times longer than any previously tested material and much longer than any probe that has been sent to Venus before – namely one sole NASA mission in 1978 and the Soviet Union's Venera series of landers in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The latter's longest surviving probe on the surface lasted just a little over 2 hours, so it's a rather significant improvement.


The breakthrough in how to get a computer working there was only possible thanks to the new silicon carbide semiconductor. Silicon chips stop functioning properly at half the temperature of Venus, but silicon carbide can withstand high temperatures and high voltages, and is being researched for its potential applications both in the military and in industry. The technology is very much in its development stages, so don’t expect Venus rovers anytime soon, but it could allow for prolonged exploration of Venus in the future.

This so-called “Earth twin” is a living hell. The surface temperature is around 470°C (880°F), which is hot enough to melt lead, and its atmosphere is so heavy that ground pressure is equivalent to being 900 meters (3,000 feet) underwater. If all this wasn’t enough, before reaching the inferno you have to fly through clouds made of sulfuric acid.

Venus, though, reallly doesn’t get as much press as it deserves. Yes, it might not be attractive for finding lifeforms, but its upper atmosphere the most Earth-like environment anywhere outside our planet. Just 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the surface, the temperature is a more suitable 75°C (167°F), and while it’s hotter than anywhere on Earth, it’s also very easy to shield against.

Mars still remains the first objective for humanity’s interplanetary future, but soon we’re going to have the right technology to explore Venus as well as we are getting to know the Red Planet.  


[H/T: Ars Technica]

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