December 30, 2021 2:23:10 pm
Last year, the discovery of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus triggered global excitement about the possibility of life on our neighbouring planet. Another study published this month in PNAS supports the long-standing idea that life could exist in Venus’ clouds.
The authors list various chemical pathways by which life forms could neutralise the acidic environment on Venus’ clouds and create habitable pockets.
Let’s continue the topic of Venus and the habitability of the clouds – our new paper suggests that the clouds of Venus might not be as hostile to life as previously thought – the key component to habitability of the clouds – ammonia: https://t.co/PyDmwXKGCW pic.twitter.com/WwZOhZgmRL
— Janusz Petkowski (@jjpetkowski) December 20, 2021
In the 1970s, ammonia was detected in the planet’s clouds by the Venera 8 and Pioneer Venus probes and the source of this ammonia remained an unsolved mystery. In the new study, the researchers propose that biological origin is the most plausible explanation for ammonia. They say that meteorite strikes, lightning, or volcanic eruptions cannot produce huge amounts of ammonia observed by the probes.
They also modelled several chemical processes to show that if ammonia is indeed present, the gas would set off various chemical reactions. These reactions “would neutralise surrounding droplets of sulfuric acid and could also explain most of the anomalies observed in Venus’ clouds,” explains a release.
The corresponding author of the study Dr Sara Seager, from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), Massachusetts Institute of Technology explains in an email to indianexpress.com: “We do not know what kind or type of life we will find. If there is some life we do expect it to be simple single-celled life forms…Life may have originated on Venus as it did on Earth, assuming that Venus had water oceans early on. As Venus heated up and lost its oceans, life would have had to migrate to and evolve to live in the clouds.”
LIVE: We’re going to Venus with two bold new @NASASolarSystem missions, DAVINCI+ and VERITAS! On today’s #ScienceLive, hear directly from the mission leads about exploring this inferno-like world. Questions? Use #AskNASA: https://t.co/kvMk9WtXsc
— NASA (@NASA) June 3, 2021
She adds that we need targeted missions to search for signs of life and life itself. “We need missions that drop probes or balloons in the Venus atmosphere directly to study the cloud particles as if there is life it likely resides inside the cloud droplets,” Dr Seager says.
The team is currently working on a privately-funded focused mission to Venus with a targeted launch date of 2023 as well as MIT’s Venus Life Finder missions which aim to study Venus’ cloud particles and continue where the previous missions from nearly four decades ago left off.
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