Scientists have finally built a computer that can survive on the surface of Venus

Have you ever wondered why everyone’s so chuffed about Mars but have almost nothing to say about dear old Venus, the brightest ‘star’ in the night sky?

If you’ve never paid attention to it, you should know that Venus is the veritable definition of hell. It’s surface temperature is a scorching 470 degrees Celsius, you’ll be peppered by acid – it’s atmosphere is mostly sulphur – and crushed under a pressure of 90 atmospheres.

No human could survive there, and, as it turns out, neither can a computer.

At a very basic level, computers work by channeling electrons through paths etched in silicon. They simply follow those predefined paths because moving along those paths requires less energy. If a computer was on the surface of Venus, the electrons would have so much energy that they could simply jump paths at will, completely breaking the flow of electricity and hence, the computer.

As ArsTechnica explains, traditional computers can’t survive there. The Soviets hold the record for the longest time spent on the surface of Venus. The probe they sent survived for 127 minutes.

The only way to overcome this extreme heat was to pre-cool the Silicon and hermetically seal. This is heavy, expensive, and only a short term solution.

Nasa scientists have tried to find different materials that would help them overcome these obstacles. Succor came in the form of Silicon Carbide (SiC), a material that can handle high temperatures and voltages. Together with newly designed interconnects that help keep transistors in place, the scientists have finally built a CPU that can withstand Venus’ heat.

The processor runs at a mere 1.26MHz – yes, MHz, not GHz – but could survive a Venus-like environment for over 500 hours. In fact, it could have gone on for much longer if scientists hadn’t shut down the rig.

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