I mentioned in my last post some thoughts about the cultural heritage value of the planet Venus. To recap, I argued that Venus has been noted throughout history as one of the brightest objects in the night sky, prompting names such as the Morning or Evening Star. This distinguishing brightness has furthermore given Venus a special place in the mythology of many human cultures.
According to Wikipedia, Carl Sagan was the first person to propose terraforming Venus in 1961. Terraforming is, of course, the process of altering a planet to make it earthlike. There are other reasons to think twice about undertaking such a project, but here I’ll consider the cultural side of things.
I’d argue that the cultural significance of Venus for much of human history arose from its brightness in the night sky. That brightness is a product of the planet’s high albedo of 0.65. If the planet’s albedo is preserved, then cultural objections to the terraforming process could be mitigated.
Venus’ status as the second brightest object in the night sky was trumped last year when the International Space Station deployed sufficient solar panels to overtake it. Should its pre-eminence have been preserved? I don’t personally think so, but someone with more reverence for the planet might. I think the fact of its brightness is more important than its rank among celestial bodies visible from earth.
Of course, there may be other cultural objections. We occasionally hear cultural or religious objections to human activity on the Moon, based on beliefs about that body. Furthermore, since the planet Venus has become observable by telescope, its dense cloud layers have themselves gained some cultural significance through conjecture about what they could be concealing.
As it turns out, the albedo of Venus might actually be boosted by terraforming. The creation of oceans, or the seeding of the planet’s atmosphere with reflective materials have both been mooted as methods of reflecting solar heat. Would brightening Venus diminish its cultural value? I think not, that the significance lies in its being a remarkably bright object and not in a particular albedo of 0.65.
At the moment no Earth organisation has responsiblity for protecting space heritage, and no terraforming projects are being put in motion so this is a moot, but interesting point. Is the redness of Mars similarly valuable from a cultural perspective? How about the visibility and regularity of recurrence of bodies like Halley’s comet?