This week, scientists are gathering in Boulder to discuss the Earth's climate and how it's changing. But they're looking "off-world" to do it, by investigating the atmospheres of celestial bodies that have Earth-like qualities: the planets Venus and Mars, as well as Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.
"Earth is a very complex system," said David Grinspoon, curator of astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, in an article about the conference on TimesCall.com. "The nearby planets—especially the most Earth-like—are really priceless laboratories for us to test our ideas and our assumptions. When it comes to climate models in particular, we're banking a lot on getting it right."
"Venus has the most extreme greenhouse climate in our solar system," Grinspoon said. "The history of Venus, as we understand it, is one of a runaway greenhouse. Basically, it's the same kind of dynamics and feedback as are going on in Earth's climate but gone completely awry." One day, Earth's atmosphere will likely be as harsh and uninhabitable as Venus's is today.
The four celestial bodies that are the subjects of the conference have all been studied as potential locations for future human habitation—though colonizing those bodies would involve some serious adaptation (like permanent air-tight enclosures and spacesuits) and possibly even terraforming, i.e., changing entire atmospheres to make them more like Earth.
But it's not just scientists who are getting in on the action. Tonight, the conference—entitled Comparative Climatology of Terrestrial Planets, and produced by the Lunar and Planetary Institute, will host a public panel discussion at the Boulder Theater called "Climate Change on Earth and Other Planets," featuring Grinspoon, Jim Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (the first one to call for urgent action to stop climate change), and Brian Toon, a researcher at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. And just to keep it accessible for all the non-scientists in attendance, the panel will feature a keynote address by Bill Nye "The Science Guy."
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