Venus Clouds Might Be Holding Extraterrestrial Microbial Life

 

Aside from its clouds of sulfuric acid, Venus has an atmospheric pressure that is 92 times higher than Earth and a surface temperature of almost 870⁰ Fahrenheit, so the planet cannot be considered habitable. However, a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that was published in the journal "Astrobiology" suggests that Venus might be holding microbial life.

Scientists have been searching for evidence of extraterrestrial life for many years. They believe Venus was similar to Earth when it was younger, but the planet’s water evaporated as the temperature increased between 650 million and 2 billion years ago. Microbial life took about 1 billion years to develop on Earth, so it is possible some form of life existed on Venus and moved upwards as the ground conditions took a turn for the worse.

The planet’s lower clouds might contain enough mass balance to harbor microorganisms, solutes and water. The clouds’ sulfur compounds, water and carbon dioxide and moderate temperatures help establish an environment needed to sustain life. The study suggests that the atmosphere of Venus has everything that microorganisms need to survive and they’d be protected from the worst conditions. The pressure and temperature have to be compatible with life to have hopes of finding microorganisms in the planet’s atmosphere. Researchers say that the pressure drops to almost fifteen pounds per square inch once you reach an altitude of 30 miles. The temperature is warm, but still tolerable – 140⁰ Fahrenheit or 60⁰ Celsius.

The potential for the planet’s clouds to hold life was first assessed in the late 1960s through various space probes. However, the dark patches of Venus have not been meticulously explored. Instruments that have tested the planet’s atmosphere were not able to distinguish between materials of inorganic and organic nature.

While there’s no direct evidence of life on the planet, the study shows an exciting possibility. Venus has dark patches that change location and size, but don’t completely disappear. Scientists don’t have a clear explanation for these splotches, but research shows that the particles in these areas are the size of bacteria. It is possible that the planet’s dark patches are bacteria-like organisms.

Studying Venus, however, is very difficult due to its harsh nature. Rovers that have been sent to Venus have lasted barely 2 hours. Researchers are considering VAMP (Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform), a blimp-like aircraft that is capable of hovering over Venus’ clouds for up to 1 year collecting samples from the planet.