Life Could Make Habitable Pockets in Venus’ Atmosphere

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Life Could Make Habitable Pockets in Venus’ Atmosphere

Post by fred8615 »

The tantalizing possibility that life exists in the clouds of Venus is once again causing a stir amongst planetary scientists this week. Researchers out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cardiff University, and the University of Cambridge have proposed that some longstanding ‘anomalies’ in the composition of Venus’ atmosphere might be explained by the presence of ammonia. But ammonia itself would be a strange compound to discover there, unless some unknown process – such as biological life – was actively producing it. Perhaps more intriguingly, ammonia can remove the acidity from Venus’ hostile cloud-tops, suggesting that an airborne, ammonia-producing microbe might have evolved the ability to turn its hostile surroundings into something habitable.

Venus, a planet known for its inhospitable surface temperatures and pressures, along with sulfuric acid rain (that boils off before it can even reach the surface) and a runaway greenhouse effect, seems an unlikely place to look for life. Almost certainly, the planet’s surface is barren of anything we might recognize as ‘alive’. But it just might be possible that something could have evolved to live amongst the Venusian clouds, where pressures and temperatures are more manageable. Over the years, observers have noticed that Venus’ atmosphere contained elements it shouldn’t: most recently in 2020, when the discovery of phosphine suggested a biological microorganism might be actively producing the gas, which would quickly degrade without an ongoing source. Follow-up studies tempered the excitement about phosphine somewhat, suggesting there was not as much of it as originally thought, but its origin nevertheless remains an open question.

This latest study, which will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has nothing to do with phosphine, yet once again suggests the possibility of Venusian microbes floating in the planet’s atmosphere.

As Sara Seager, one of the paper’s co-authors, explains, “The phosphine detection ended up becoming incredibly controversial, but phosphine was like a gateway, and there’s been this resurgence in people studying Venus.” Those researchers began combing through past data, turning up more anomalies, and creating models that might explain them.

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Frederick J. Barnett
"Someone's got to take the responsibility if the job's going to get done!! Do you think that's easy?!" Gregory Peck - The Guns Of Navarone
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