Life on Venus could be hiding in its strange clouds

Venus clouds.

A team of scientists modeling Venus’ atmosphere has found data that could help explain the confusing chemistry of planetary clouds. The findings confirm the possibility of the existence of life in Venus atmosphere, still a controversial idea to be explored with several planned missions on scorching planet.

Venus is another planet from the Sun, which makes it hellishly warmer than Earth. In addition to the heat of the planet, Venus is a dry, rocky wasteland dominated by volcanoes and toxic sulfuric acid clouds. That layer of clouds — about 12 miles thick — covers the surface of the planet most of the time from Earth observers, and recently to was the center of attention as a possible hiding place for extraterrestrial life.

Recent research has modeled those clouds at greater depths, and scientists have discovered that the clouds on the planet are not complete it consists of sulfuric acid but let a certain amount of ammonium salt be mixed. Team study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our model predicts that clouds are not made entirely of concentrated sulfuric acid, but that cloud droplets are partially neutralized. Our model postulates that the compound that neutralizes acid in clouds is ammonia, ”said Janusz Petkowski, an astrobiologist at MIT and co-author of a recent study, in an email. “The source of ammonia is unknown, but it could be the result of biological production of ammonia in cloud droplets. As a result of acid neutralization, clouds are no more acidic than some of the extreme terrestrial environments in which life is found. ”

Recent work continues highly published research published last year in Nature, which he claimed to have discovered phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus. (The scientists behind the new work were also among the authors of the phosphine paper.) Phosphine is produced by microorganisms that do not need oxygen to survive, so the presence of gas was a surprising, exciting sign that something biological might be going on in them. clouds. Finding was controversial; other researchers said the alleged phosphine signal was indeed only sulfur dioxide, while others suggested active volcanoes, not life, could be responsible.

“No life we ​​know of could survive in the droplets of Venus,” said Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at MIT and co-author of a new study at an institute. let go. “But the point is that maybe some life is there and it modifies its environment so that you can live in it.”

The new work did not focus on phosphine but rather some inexplicable chemical signatures at Venus clouds. Years of observations showed more water vapor and sulfur dioxide than expected. Ammonia, the researchers thought, could explain these anomalies.

“Ammonia should not be on Venus,” Seager added. “Hydrogen is bound to it, and there is very little hydrogen around it. Any gas that does not belong to the context of its environment is automatically suspicious because it is produced by life. ”


The models have shown that, if the microorganisms were on Venus and producing ammonia, oxygen would be released as a by-product. Furthermore, ammonia (which is basic) would neutralize sulfuric acid droplets in the clouds, making them somewhat habitable. While this work was done with the models, future space probe missions could help us get some answers about what it really is happens in the clouds.

These missions are NASA’s VERITAS and DAVINCI + missions, ESA’s orbiter EnVision and (perhaps) proposed, privately funded Venus Life Finder mission, on which Seager and Petkowski are working. The latter is the only one with the primary purpose of exploring the possibilities of extraterrestrial life on Venus, but space agency missions are likely to gather some information on the subject. Of those three, DAVINCI + is the only mission that will really enter Venus atmosphere and sample it as the spacecraft descends to the surface of the planet.

If life of any kind is found outside the Earth – any fossilized on the surface of Mars, thrive in the clouds of Venus, or swim in an ocean of icy moon—To it would be one of the most significant scientific discoveries of all time. But there is a long, uncertain road ahead before such claims can be made.

More: 7 strangest things about Venus, the planet of hell

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Naveen Kumar

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