[Subtitled] New Venus Missions - Chai with Prof. Darby Dyar
Kainaaties Welcome! Note in the beginning. We have a special guest today Professor M. Darby Dyer. I will introduce her in a second. But as you notice I am not starting in Urdu. This conversation is going to be in English but there will be subtitles below in English, Urdu and YouTube then picks up and can provide subtitles in whatever language you prefer Hindi, Punjabi, Balochi, Pashto.
You will have subtitles in all of these languages. But let me start with introducing our guest here and before I do that I should mention that we keep on talking about Mars. We have two rovers or up to two countries that have rovers right now on Mars going around.
We keep on talking about Mars but I say enough is enough! We should start talking about other planets as well and that's why we are here to talk about Venus. So our guest is Professor Darby Dyer. She's a planetary geologist. How cool that is planetary geologist. She is Kennedy shelkanov Professor of Astronomy and Chair of Astronomy at Mount Holyoke College which is part of the five college astronomy departments of which Hampshire is also a part. She has won many many awards. She has over 250 peer-reviewed articles so I can go on and on about that but I should mention one of her awards which is the Eugene Shoemaker distinguished scientist medal from NASA solar system exploration research institute.
But apart from all of that, she has driven a rover on Mars. Remotely, she would tell them okay which way the rover should go and the rover would go in that direction. So that's very cool and I personally had the pleasure of teaching a class with Professor Darby Dyer and a Microbiologist Professor Jason Torre and the three of us co-taught a class on astrobiology for three years and I think that was a lot of fun and I'm hoping that students also had fun but whether they had fun or not at least the three of us had a lot of great conversation and a lot of learning. I learned a lot from her. Prof. Hameed: So Professor Dyer. Welcome to Kainaat Prof. Dyar: Thank you so much I am thrilled to be here anything for you my friend.
Prof. Hameed: thank you and so let's start with I mean we I've mentioned Venus missions before like you know that hay! Venus missions are coming, there are three missions that have been announced but even before we talk about that I want to know how did you get interested in astronomy geology or science how did you get into it what motivated you. Prof. Dyar: Well it turns out that I was interested in English in high school I went to college and decided I would major in art history and then my college Wellesley College required that you take a science course in order to graduate and so I asked around to find out what the easiest science course was and it turned out to be geology I took a geology course and I was hooked so I went on to double major in geology and art history and then ended up in graduate school when I found an opportunity to work on samples from the Apollo missions of the moon and from then on I have not looked back.
Prof. Hameed: And so and I should mention that you have recently gotten more samples from the moon so NASA had said because they are re-examining rocks that they are brought in the 70s they're examining them more so did you get sort of like you know big rocks? or did you get a little bit of rocks what kind of samples did you get from the moon? Prof. Dyar: So most people don't realize that we only brought back a number of samples about equal to the volume of a refrigerator so that was out of all the Apollo missions so the ones that they saved to be opened 50 years later which they just recently opened were just tiny and in fact, the ones that they sent me are so tiny that in the vial you can't even see them with the naked eye they're about 100 microns across so smaller than a grain of salt but nonetheless exciting because they are never foreseen lunar samples so we're pretty excited to get those.
Prof. Hameed: Will you get a chance to sort of like you know depend on those Chinese samples the ones that they recently got those rocks or there's no? I mean I guess with the US and China there is no cooperation in that end. Prof. Dyar: Sadly no I think in fact we're not allowed to use United States funding to study Chinese samples now there may be some informal exchanges but that's going to have to wait till politics resolve themselves. Prof. Hameed: It's really really unfortunate so let's talk about Venus
and the first question is like you know I mean a really broad one why should we care about Venus? I mean it's a bit uncomfortable it's a little warm on Venus so why should we care about the planet Venus? Prof. Dyar: So do you care about the question of "Are we alone?" so we know that earth has life and I think one of the most important questions in science philosophy and the world is whether or not human beings as a species arose on only one planet and it turns out that Venus is the most earth-like other planet in our solar system, not Mars because as you know Salman when a solar system forms you have a disk of dust rotating around a star and the star gradually heats up so the conditions for liquid water start out closer to the sun and then expand outward as the sun matures so what does that mean it means that Venus was warm and could have had liquid water on it way sooner than earth and there's current models now that suggest that Venus probably had water liquid oceans in fact for about three billion years so you think about that and you think about how long it took life to arise on earth and it makes you realize that probably the conditions were right for life to have arisen on Venus so that's question that's sort of number one was maybe Venus had life but even more intriguingly of course is the recent discovery of probably millions of exoplanets in orbit around other stars elsewhere in the universe and the ones that we're discovering many of them in part by nature of how we discover them but many of them are Venus and earth-like distances from their stars and so understanding how life might have arisen on Venus is really fundamental to understanding whether the earth is just a special case or whether the earth is just one of a million and that to me is the most important reason why we need to study Venus Prof. Hameed: So I mean if life or if oceans were there for three billion years I mean we have sent sort of like you know landers just Soviet Union sent that a while back and they've been there for a very short period of time but if oceans were there for three billion years that's a sufficient time for life potentially to have evolved sort of like even complex biology I mean not sort of like intelligent beings or something like that but potentially and so is that a real possibility that it might have happened on Venus Prof. Dyar: it certainly is I mean you know to the extent that biologists like our friend Jason Torre understand how life evolves certainly on earth life evolved on the earth and we know that some of the most primitive life forms evolved at mid-ocean ridges at those vents in nearly boiling water so we know that life can not only evolve but also originate in the deep oceans under hostile conditions so you know even if the conditions on Venus weren't hostile certainly it seems to me as a scientist possible that if the conditions were right life might have arisen there and of course, might also arise elsewhere in the universe. Prof. Hameed: So let's talking about life let's get the elephant in the room out of the way
and that is about the recent claims that there might have been life in the clouds of Venus and that was the detection of phosphine which is not directly life but an indirect signature potentially I know that you are skeptical but I wanted to ask you what do you think about those results because yes there may have been life in the past but what about life in the clouds of Venus. Prof. Dyar: So it makes perfect sense to me that if you have a very high temperature hostile surface and then you have you know the near vacuum of outer space that there is a gradient between those and so there is a place between outer space if you want to call it and the surface where the conditions are indeed benign whether or not life could have ended up there and maybe still existing there I don't know I mean my advisor used to say show me your data and if your data are unimpeachable then you can make whatever conclusions you want from them and I think these data were acquired with the best of intentions but people don't realize how many corrections have to be happening between when the data come out of a telescope and when we actually see them in a paper and I think in this case they're still unclear on what the proper way to process those data are so I remain optimistic but skeptical Prof. Hameed: And then there were some issues that said some calibration issues like there was some leakage from other bands that it was detecting phosphine so it may not have been phosphine as much so now you are part of the veritas mission and I see that you are also wearing sort of like you know the t-shirts are already out so if people want to think about Venus or maybe go to Venus not soon but so t-shirts are out so tell us a little bit about this mission and also apparently there are a couple of other missions that have been announced. What will it be doing? Prof. Dyar: So I got started working on Venus many years ago actually in graduate school I was interested in Venus but the Venus mission at the time got canceled when I was in graduate school so that's how actually I ended up working on lunar samples in Mars so about 15 years ago it became clear that the clouds which shroud the surface of Venus are not actually completely opaque that there are tiny slivers of the electromagnetic spectrum between the visible and infrared light regions where you can actually see through the clouds and make a map of the surface and that's what kind of drew me into this whole idea of sending a Venus orbiter because as a geologist when you go out in the field you need two things you need a good topographic map so you can locate yourself and of course in the old days we didn't have GPS satellites the traditional geologists use the topographic map to figure out where he or she was and then you also need an idea of what the rocks are and for Venus, we have neither of those things at the moment the knowledge of topography on the surface of Venus is less accurate than the knowledge of topography on pluto believe it or not.
Prof. Hameed: Because of the clouds? Prof. Dyar: because of the clouds and because the last mission was 35 years ago so you know it's using technology that's Magellan used technology that's almost well it's probably 40 or 45 years old so it was you know excellent for its time but very low resolution compared to what we can do now so in my opinion, because I like to work on fundamental problems to me the fundamental first step in going to Venus and eventually hopefully putting a lander down on Venus is you need a topographic map you need to know where it's safe to land and you need to know where the cool rocks are so you can land close to them so the veritas mission has two instruments on it and they do exactly those two things the first one is a radar instrument which will tell us something about the topography in a very accurate way in fact two orders of magnitude better than what we had before and then the spectrometer will map the surface geology and tell us what rock types we hope are on the surface so those are the two things that we're going for with veritas now as you noted there are two other missions one of them is called DaVinci plus and it is a probe which will analyze the composition of the atmosphere as it descends through the surface and it will eventually as it clears the clouds start taking pictures as it descends down to the surface so it's kind of a one shot a very slow shot at least but one shot mission that will transverse the clouds and go down and look at the atmospheric profile to help us understand something about where the water that was once on Venus went and then the third mission is the envision mission which is being supported by the European space agencies and that will do sort of some of the same things that veritas will do in terms of taking pictures and doing radar except that it's more oriented toward close up so while veritas will do 98% of the surface envision will look at about a quarter of the surface in very fine detail so it's going to be nice that we have the succession of missions veritas DaVinci plus and then the isa mission which is called a division in you know roughly within the same decade but spaced out in such a way that envision will be able to use the data from veritas to figure out where to look in detail so we're really excited about this decade of data that are going to come hitting us in about five years Prof. Hameed: but no rovers Prof. Dyar: No rovers. So I often refer to the triumvirate of things you need to go you need to know about Venus and
they include what are the rocks on the surface? what is the atmosphere made of? and what does the surface look like from the surface? so as part of the Venus community, I am trying to encourage NASA to not think about this as a three missions and done but to think of this as the gateway toward putting some kind of a lander on the surface in the next decades to come. Prof. Hameed: And a small lander I mean we were talking before sort of like a lunchbox size was sort of like you know lander that goes in is it really that small lunchbox. Prof. Dyar: It is that small so there are a couple of different choices for how you want to put the lander down on the surface so one of them is that you put something that's very small and that has electronics on it that can handle the hostile conditions which are 460c and 93 bars of pressure so high pressure high temperature it turns out that we now have electronics that can handle that kind of conditions for sustained periods up to probably two maybe even three months so a long time on the other hand if you want to have more sophisticated instrumentation because you can imagine that on the little lunch box size one there's not a lot of instruments that you can put on there but you can certainly get some you put cameras and different kinds of sensors maybe a seismometer on such a little lander but on a big lander which would do more complicated things those we don't quite have the technology to maintain a healthy environment in a giant lander for very long so when the soviets did it back in the 60s and the 70s their landers lasted like an hour or two the modern landers we think we think at least 12 hours I was involved in a mission proposal for a lander a couple of years ago and I think our required mission duration was five hours and then 12 hours if we got lucky and then maybe two days if we got really lucky so because a lot of these electronics have not yet been tested for a long period of time and the technology is keeps advancing so depending on when we get the lander selected and flown I'm hopeful that whether it's a mini lander or a lunchbox or whether it's a giant lander that will be able to be there for a little more of an extended time. Prof. Hameed: And I should mention for viewers who don't know but Professor Dyer is actually a Deputy PI
meaning to say she's the number two person for this whole veritas mission so you know what you are talking about and as a geologist so normally for astronomers you know we have these telescopes in the back but I can see like you know for her in the back it's a lab so because a lot of the things are analyzed there even if you cannot get a sample from Venus so you can still do a lot of lab work. Prof. Dyar: Well in fact Salman behind me are two Mars chambers so these are prototypes of the laser induced breakdown spectrometers that are on Mars right now so the little one let's see over here is a Mars chamber that is very much analogous to the Canon cam instrument on Mars science lab and then the one on this side is a Mars instrument that's analogous to the super libs instrument that's on Mars right now in march 2020 so in fact we have an even bigger chamber than this at Los Alamos where we're testing the same instrument the same laser to go to Venus for lander so we're actively thinking about technologies for analyzing things on the surface of Venus. Prof. Hameed: Very very cool okay so we're gonna wrap up a couple of questions I want to ask you one is the last mission or the orbiter mission that was to Venus it discovered some strange features on Venus which was sort of like a pancake shaped features I am just wondering what are those and would you find out more about it so this was the Magellan mission I think in the early 1990s and it had something sort of like you know features that we don't know what those are first of all I mean that's really cool to say we don't know what those features are so, what are those? Prof. Dyar: Well I mean the truth is someone we don't know what any of the features are on Venus not really because we don't
really know what they're made of we just don't have enough data and I'm so glad you picked pancake domes because those are also my favorite thing on the surface of Venus and they are exactly that they're a very round looking volcanic feature with steep sides that looks like one of my favorite old movies describes them as pancakes floating in a sea of basaltic syrup so that's what they look like we think that those are made up of unusual lavas that are very rich in silica because silica makes things very viscous so that they don't flow like a normal volcano would with a steep side with a more tilted size so we think that maybe those are low silica lavas but right now we have not enough data to figure that out so you know wait eight years and I'll be able to tell you. Prof. Hameed: Very cool and the other question is this was asked to me a few I think a couple of weeks ago and that was a question about the reason for high winds on Venus because Venus has pretty high winds what is causing those Prof. Dyar: That's not my specialty Salman and they're not close to the surface they're obviously in the clouds yeah sorry that's atmosphere.
Prof. Hameed: Okay alright! yeah I know that's what because that's like that's a good question but yeah I had a hard time figuring that out okay we are going to wrap up but before we wrap up one last question since you mentioned a movie as well but I would like to know what is your favorite science fiction film and you don't have to be a science fiction fan so you know you cannot get away with saying I don't watch science fiction but from any science fiction film, what is your favorite? Prof. Dyar: Well you know I guess The Martian I have a special place in my heart for the martian because the book was so well written and so well researched and the movie actually kept pretty close to the book so I like science fiction that is almost real and I felt like the martian was almost real you know could have could almost happen so that would be my favorite. Prof. Hameed: Very cool all right and as far as I know the martian is a favorite of a lot of people who watch this channel
so I think they would be pleased to hear that well thank you very much for telling us about Venus and we really hope we will find some of the answers about what is going on Venus and so good luck with the mission. Thank you. Prof. Dyar: Thank you, I'll keep you posted.