In a new study, scientists are exploring the idea that life could be lurking high up in the clouds of Venus, and suggest that the planet’s atmosphere would be the perfect place to begin a search for microbial life.
Scientist Sanjay Limaye, who works at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center, conducted the latest research with a group of international researchers and noted that it is highly possible that Venus may have once had a plentiful supply of liquid water on the planet’s surface that could have been in existence for at least 2 billion years, according to Phys.Org.
“That’s much longer than is believed to have occurred on Mars.”
When it comes to Earth, various microorganisms, like bacteria, are fully able to drift up into the atmosphere of our planet, and have even been discovered by scientists as high up as 25 miles. Even in areas that you might expect would be difficult to survive in, like the hot springs that are found in Yellowstone, microbes can still be found, as California State Polytechnic University, Pomona’s Rakesh Mogul explained.
“On Earth, we know that life can thrive in very acidic conditions, can feed on carbon dioxide, and produce sulfuric acid.”
— Phys.org (@physorg_com) March 30, 2018
The idea of life existing high up in the clouds of Venus was first posited by Carl Sagan and Harold Morowitz in 1967, and was later suggested by Mark Bullock and David Grinspoon. Between the years 1962 and 1978, different probes were sent to the planet which showed that 25 to 27 miles up into Venus’s atmosphere, it would not be out of the realm of possibility if the planet were to harbor microbial life in these areas.
Sanjay Limaye was enthusiastic about the idea of further exploring the idea of life in the clouds of Venus after discussions with the University of Zielona’s Grzegorz Słowik, who told him that Earth had bacteria that contained light-absorbing properties, which appeared to be very much like dark patches that have been spotted high up in Venus’s clouds. Upon exploring these dark patches on Venus further, it was discovered that these were indeed light-absorbing particles like sulfuric acid, although the other particles seen were not known.
As Limaye explained, these patches of particles can sometimes last for days.
“Venus shows some episodic dark, sulfuric rich patches, with contrasts up to 30–40 percent in the ultraviolet, and muted in longer wavelengths. These patches persist for days, changing their shape and contrasts continuously and appear to be scale dependent.”
Life adrift in the clouds of Venus?https://t.co/KQMQjEgELZ
On Friday, astronomers announced a new paper laying out the case for the atmosphere of Venus as a possible niche for extraterrestrial microbial life. pic.twitter.com/zpdpA2r8T9
— EarthSky (@earthskyscience) April 1, 2018
To research whether the clouds of Venus may actually host extraterrestrial life, the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform, or VAMP, is one tool that scientists are considering using.
This is a probe that has the capability of flying like an airplane, but is also able to float along in the air like a blimp, and would be able to stay up in Venus’s clouds for long spans of time, such as a year, so that it could collect samples and extract data from the planet’s atmosphere.
To get to the bottom of things, the only way of really discovering if the possibility of life could exist in Venus’s clouds is by actually heading there, as Mogul attests.
“To really know, we need to go there and sample the clouds. Venus could be an exciting new chapter in astrobiology exploration.”
As scientists are currently in discussions about the best ways to explore life in the clouds of Venus, it is hoped that by the late 2020s, a probe may finally be in place to head off to the planet and explore further.