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Venus is hell, but science is seriously looking for life in heaven



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An ultraviolet image of Venus captured by Mariner 10.

NASA

The verdict has been on Venus for decades: it is a poisonous, overheated, crushing hell landscape in which nothing can survive. But our planetary neighbor is getting a second look, or at least its clouds.

Recent research suggests a way in which microbial life in Venusian vapors could survive for eons in the air. Should such a hypothesis ever prove true, it could lead to a reassessment of how and where we look for life in the universe.

Although the surface of Venus is subjected to punitive pressure and temperatures around 426 degrees Celsius, certain layers of its atmosphere are quite beautiful. NASA has even gone so far as to propose the creation of some kind of cloud city on the second planet by sending vehicles that could hover at an altitude of around 50 kilometers, where conditions are actually similar to those on the surface of the earth.

Some measures suggest that the atmosphere of Venus, next to Earth, is the most habitable place in our solar system, since the pressure and temperature are in the range we are used to. Even so, there would be no breathable air – and then there is the problem that sulfuric acid in the atmosphere devours your airways and other vitals.

Of course, nobody expects large humanoids to fly around above the clouds of Venus. But there is this question: could some almost invisible microbes persist in floating around finding one of the more precarious lifestyles on the edge of one of the most vicious worlds known? Like hardy organisms Tardigrades can survive radiation, temperature extremes, hunger, dehydration, and even the vacuum of space. Maybe they have cousins ​​on Venus?

Carl Sagan speculated on life in the clouds of Venus in 1967, and a few years ago researchers suggested that strange, anomalous patterns that appear when looking at the planet in the ultraviolet range could be explained by something like an alga or bacterium in the atmosphere could become .

More recently, research published last month in the journal Astrobiology by MIT’s leading astronomer Sara Seager offers an idea of ​​what the life cycle over Venus might look like. Seager was a leader in the 21st century in the search for exoplanets, biosignatures and worlds like us. She is currently the assistant scientific director of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite mission (also known as TESS).






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This satellite could find someone else’s life




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Seager and her colleagues suggest that microbes above Venus are most likely to be able to survive in liquid droplets. But such droplets do not remain still, as anyone who has ever seen rain knows. Eventually they get big enough for gravity to take control. In the case of Venus, this would mean that droplets harbor tiny life forms and fall towards the hotter, lower layers of the planet’s atmosphere, where they would inevitably dry out.

“We are proposing for the first time that life can only survive indefinitely if a life cycle dries up in which liquid droplets evaporate as they settle, with the small parched ‘spores’ holding on to Venus’ atmosphere and partially populating this stagnant lower layer of vapor “says the summary of the paper.

These desiccated spores would go into some sort of hibernation, much like tardigrades can, and eventually be lifted higher into the atmosphere and rehydrated, continuing the life cycle.

This is all speculation. Fortunately for Venusian life hunters, a number of astronomers and their instruments are being trained on the complex planet. NASA is even considering a mission called Veritas, which could start as early as 2026, to orbit and study Venus and its clouds.

In the meantime, more data from Venus and possibly new discoveries could come in soon. The forecast for the planet remains, as it has for some time, cloudy with the possibility of microbes.


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