The Harsh Clouds of Venus Could Still Support Unique Kinds of Alien Life

Saturday, 31 March 2018 - 5:15PM
Space
Solar System
Alien Life
Saturday, 31 March 2018 - 5:15PM
The Harsh Clouds of Venus Could Still Support Unique Kinds of Alien Life
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NASA/JPL
Mars may be named after the Roman god of war, but Venus is a much more hostile planet, with high pressures and an average surface temperature of 872 degrees Fahrenheit (467 degrees Celsius). There's a reason we're trying to land on the Red Planet instead of our other neighbor.

But a new study published in the journal Astrobiology says we shouldn't be so quick to avoid Venus, which could be a great candidate for microbial life despite its harsh, sulfuric conditions. Specifically, Venus' lower cloud layer has a "moderate" enough temperature - which means about -76 degrees Fahrenheit (-60 degrees Celsius) - and moderate pressure, and the presence of "micron-sized sulfuric acid aerosols" that are conducive to microbes.

These sorts of conditions may be inhospitable for most living things, but certainly not all living things. After all, life has been found in similarly harsh conditions at Yellowstone hot springs, deep hydrothermal vents, and in polluted or otherwise acidic lakes, and bacteria can be swept up into the sky.



Which means an attempt to better explore Venus could be worthwhile. According to Rakesh Mogul, a co-author on the paper and professor at California State Polytechnic University, there are pockets of Venus-lite conditions on Earth where we have found life. He said the following in an official statement:

Opening quote
"On Earth, we know that life can thrive in very acidic conditions, can feed on carbon dioxide, and produce sulfuric acid."
Closing quote


Another point in Venus' favor is that it might have been habitable long before Mars or Earth ever was, even if it's tough to see that nowadays. Venus appeared to have a moderate temperature and water on its surface about three billion years ago, and it could have lasted for at least a couple billion years. 

That's enough time to life to form, and slowly weed out all but the harshest organisms as the planet gradually trapped more heat and became inhospitable. Of course, we wouldn't know unless we looked.



Probes to Venus have been minimal over the decades, for perhaps obvious reasons. Still, it was the first planet to be reached by a space probe, when Mariner 2 flew close to its surface back in 1962 and transmitted back a lot of the data we still use today. The Soviets even landed a probe on Venus' surface, which lasted for less than an hour before harsh conditions completely destroyed it.

We've lost interest in our sister planet since then, but regardless of whether life is there, interesting discoveries could still be hiding underneath its hellish surface.
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