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The lab

John Maddox looks at new research which sheds light on the differences between Earth and the other planets

By John Maddox   November 1996

Why is the Earth so different from Venus, and for that matter from Mars and Mercury? Venus, as massive as the Earth, has a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide, which keeps the surface of the planet well above the boiling point of water. Mars, smaller than the Earth and further from the Sun, has a tenuous atmosphere of carbon dioxide. Mercury, the innermost planet, is simply bare rock. How did the inner planets of the solar system acquire these features?

The truth is that nobody knows for sure. At some level, the explanation must involve accidents going back to the…

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