Could Alien Life Exist in Venus' Mysterious Clouds?

Could Alien Life Exist in Venus' Mysterious Clouds?

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Most people, when they think of the planet Venus, conjure up images of a hot and steaming planet surrounded by highly acidic clouds that would extinguish or prevent any life from ever existing there. However, just above the cloud decks of the planet, there exists the most Earth-like conditions in our entire solar system.

This has prompted some astrobiologists, such as Dirk Schulze-Makuch from Washington State University, to suggest that there is in fact a possibility for life to exist, not on Venus itself, but approximately 50 to 65 kilometers above the surface in its clouds where there is free oxygen and temperature and pressure similar to that on Earth.

Makuch is particularly interested in the fact that the clouds of Venus seem to absorb more ultraviolet light than they should. In fact, there is enough ultraviolet (UV) to give lethal sunburn to anything without adequate protection. However, one hypothesis is that molecular rings of sulphur, which are plentiful in the atmosphere of Venus, could be giving something just that kind of protection. These molecules absorb harmful UV and radiate it away.

The properties of Venus’ clouds are not just mysterious due to the unusual amounts of UV that they absorb. They also contain two types of molecules that logically should not be found together – sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide (when in the same place, they react with each other).

Another unexpected chemical in Venus’ atmosphere is known as carbonyl sulfide (OCS). On Earth, carbonyl sulfide is so difficult to create through inorganic processes that it’s been used as an “unambiguous indicator of biological activity“.

Finally, Venus’ clouds contain another strange phenomenon – the so-called “mode 3 cloud particles.” The clouds of Venus are a menagerie of tiny droplets and ice crystals made up of the various chemicals found in the atmosphere. These cloud particles are normally fairly easy to identify, but the mode 3 particles are still a mystery. They’re large, non-spherical, and they contain plenty of sulfuric acid. David Grinspoon, curator of astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, has suggested that those cloud particles are even the same size as bacteria. It could be that life already exists in the mysterious clouds of Venus, just waiting to be discovered.

    'Alien' Life Could Exist High in Earth's Atmosphere

    Life on Earth shows up in surprising places. It's been found in high-temperature vents deep undersea and high in the air. But we're still trying to learn more about these so-called "extremophiles." Researchers are now pondering how well can life reproduce in these environments. Also, could microbes of this type be found on other worlds?

    In March, a group of University of Houston students — piggybacking on a payload with a prime mission to scope out auroras — will fly a high-altitude experiment from Alaska to see what microbes are in the high atmosphere, between 18 km and 50 km (11 miles and 31 miles) from the ground. The instrument, which looks almost like a small laundry hamper, pops open to collect what's in the atmosphere. Then, as the balloon descends, it shuts closed for researchers to analyze.

    Jamie Lehnen, a fourth-year student on the team, says this system could be less open to contamination than pumps and other complicated mechanisms that require servicing on Earth. But it's the first time her group has used it, so isn't sure how well it will function. If it does, however, she's interested in learning about how microbes will react under the stresses of living at high altitudes.

    "A lot of times, these microbes when they go up there, they shut down. They are not replicating and they are not metabolically active," she said. "I'm interested in how their stress response is similar to those [microbes] back on Earth's surface."

    Some of the earliest high-altitude microorganism experiments did not involve air travel at all — Charles Darwin picked up African dust on his ship while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, while Louis Pasteur made measurements on top of alpine glaciers. Both found microorganisms.

    That said, microorganism research in the upper atmosphere has been active since the 1930s at least. One of the earliest flights involved Charles Lindbergh, a pilot best known for piloting the Atlantic solo in 1927. Accompanied with his wife, Lindbergh periodically passed the monoplane controls over to her to take samples from the atmosphere around them. The research team found spores of fungi and pollen grains, among other specimens.

    Planes still require a substantial amount of atmosphere to fly, so it's with high-altitude balloons and rockets that we can get even higher — to the stratosphere and the mesosphere. According to NASA microbial researcher David Smith, some of the pioneering work in this field was done in the 1970s, particularly in Europe and the Soviet Union. "Everything they did was fascinating, but there hasn't been a lot of follow-up work to validate the results of those collections," he told Seeker.

    There are open questions about how valid these early results are, given that contamination protocols may not have been strict. So Smith and other researchers are trying to figure out what kind of microbes live above Earth, and for how long. In May and June, Smith's team will fly with the team from NASA ABoVE (Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment), which uses a Gulfstream III jet to monitor how climate change affects animals, plants, the environment and infrastructure. In the spring, a vast airstream on the Pacific Ocean moves millions of tons of dust across the ocean, mostly from Asia.

    "We want to know what kind of microorganisms are making that leap across the ocean, co-transported with aerosol species," Smith said. "Alaska will allow us an opportunity to test the atmospheric bridge hypothesis, which simply speaking, is continents sneezing on each other."

    Smith's team will use a cascade sampler for collection, which passes air through progressively finer impact plates with holes in them, he said. As the air moves through, dust and any microorganisms impact the surface of those plates. A portion of them stick to the surface, allowing researchers to analyze what is there afterwards.

    Smith is skeptical that microorganisms are growing or dividing at such high altitudes, because it's so cold and dry up there. But he says that microorganisms may be "persisting", or lingering and not being killed. "Nobody's been able to measure how long microorganisms can stay in the stratosphere. There's works that still needs to be done."

    "Virtually all terrestrial and marine surfaces have microorganisms associated with them that can get disattached from the surfaces by wind or other physical disturbances," wrote Aarhus University assistant professor Tina Santl-Temkiv, who has studied microorganisms in hailstones, in an e-mail to Seeker.

    "[They] can reach higher levels of troposphere, above around one kilometer, can stay suspended in air for around a week and can travel thousands of kilometers, riding on wind currents. Eventually, they get deposited back to the ground wither through the formation of rain or simply due to gravity."

    If Earth's atmosphere is shown to be a great spot for life to divide, however, it could have implications for locations such as Venus. Back in the 1960s, astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan suggested that the upper atmosphere of Venus could harbor the descendants of organisms that could have evolved on the surface of the planet when it was cooler.

    Even though today the surface can crush and cook unprotected spacecraft, 50 kilometers (31 miles) above is more temperate. Moreover, researchers have found an intriguing substance that blocks ultraviolet light in Venus' clouds. Life hasn't yet been ruled out as a possibility.

    "Venus and Earth were similar for 3 billion years [of their evolution] and perhaps as recently as up to about half a billion years ago," said Dr. Lynn Rothschild, a NASA astrobiologist and synthetic biologist that is on Smith's research team. She said this includes liquid oceans, similar atmosphere, and probably the same sorts of minerals and organic compounds as well.

    But Venus would be a difficult prospect if the life returns to the surface. The sun got more luminous as the solar system aged, evaporating the water from Venus' oceans. The water vapor, now in the atmosphere, contributed to giving Venus a hellish greenhouse effect on its surface.

    It seems that life is hardy, but we don't know if it's tough enough to survive living high above a planetary surface. If it does, however, that could mean that even missions that sample a planet's atmosphere could have to worry about protections against hurting possible life. We'll have to see what these new experiments yield, though, before reaching any conclusions.

    Is there evidence for life on Venus?

    WHAT'S NEW — Rakesh Mogul, professor of biological chemistry at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and lead author of the new study, tells Inverse that the discovery reveals interesting chemistry that’s happening on Venus, which could confirm the presence of chemicals associated with life. It was his team that discovered the archival phosphine signatures in the middle clouds of Venus.

    “Each planetary body in the solar system has a very unique chemistry that's intimately linked with the geology and the history of the planet,” Mogul tells Inverse. “For Venus, there’s a lot that’s known — but it turns out there’s a lot that’s not known.”

    The findings suggest that there are perhaps unknown chemistries taking place on Venus, or that its clouds have their own chemistry that is different from the atmosphere below.

    Another implication has to do with Venus’ potential habitability, and that perhaps microorganisms are helping sustain this type of chemistry, according to the authors.

    HOW THEY FOUND IT — The team behind the new study was so intrigued by the previous results showing phosphine gas in Venus’ clouds that its members dove into old data collected on Venus to see if any clues were hiding from researchers.

    By re-examining 42-year-old archived data from NASA’s Pioneer Venus Multiprobe, which examined the composition of Venus’ atmosphere, the team was able to identify the chemical signatures of phosphine and other molecules.

    “I don't think anybody was looking for trace species in that set of data,” Mogul says. “The original investigators did a nice job of looking at the major constituents, but they didn't drill down and look at the trace species, and we found low counts for a number of things that they just sort of disregarded or perhaps didn't consider to be important.”

    HERE’S THE BACKGROUND — In September 2020, a potentially groundbreaking discovery on Venus claimed to provide evidence for potential life being harbored in Venus’ clouds.

    Using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile, scientists detected traces of phosphine gas in Venus' atmosphere. Phosphine is considered a biosignature gas on Earth, meaning that it is typically produced by a living organism.

    The hypothesis of life on Venus is centered around the cloud’s droplets, because that’s where you have liquid on the planet therefore, that’s where scientists expect life to exist on Venus.

    When searching for signs of life on other planets, scientists look for traces of these “bio-signature” gases to help them identify if a planet is potentially habitable.

    The results were met with skepticism that the signal was produced by phosphine, or that it would have been produced by microbes that live in the clouds of Venus.

    Michael Wong, a researcher in astronomy at the University of Washington, and a team of astronomers conducted a follow-up study of the initial findings.

    “We really have no good explanation for why phosphine should be in Venus's atmosphere so we wanted to check the calculations for the discovery of phosphine,” Wong tells Inverse. “And so we did our own calculations and found a different interpretation of the initial discoveries.”

    What if it’s just sulfur dioxide though? — Through their own study, the team found that phosphine was not reproducible in their models, and instead suggest that sulfur dioxide, a common gas in the atmosphere of Venus, is likely what was detected instead of phosphine. (Truly a bummer for alien hunters.)

    On the other hand, Mogul’s study provides further evidence that there are signs of phosphine in Venus’ clouds, but it does not claim that this shows potential for life on Venus.

    “There's habitability and then there's the actual biosignature,” Mogul says. “Habitability is a much softer term and it could mean that it was habitable or it could be habitable in the future, while biosignature is a little harder.”

    Mogul explains that claiming to find evidence of biosignatures indicates that this chemical is being produced from life now, or that it somehow got preserved, and is indicative of a past habitat — or even a future one.

    “So I think when it comes to biosignatures, we do need to be very cautious how exactly we interpret it,” Mogul says. “But if we dial back and talk about habitability, then things are a little bit easier to discuss, because it doesn't have to be life now.”

    Relevant to life — While the new study identifies chemicals that are relevant to life, the authors don’t claim that it is necessarily produced by or supported life.

    The discovery of life on another planet is a major claim and one that would not be based on a single discovery.

    “As Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” Wong says. “As of yet, I don't see the extraordinary evidence that would suggest that that extraordinary claim is true.”

    When it comes to these types of discoveries, Wong says there’s a need to emphasize that science is a process, and that it would take a series of repeated experiments, measurements, and hypotheses that are refined and changed over time before scientists prove that life exists on another planet.

    “So the back-and-forth in the literature of papers that claim [scientists] found phosphine on Venus, papers that claim phosphine represents a biosignature, and papers saying that maybe it does not represent a biosignature,” Wong says. “All of this is part of the scientific process.”

    WHY IT MATTERS — Astronomers believe Venus may have looked very different at a point in its early history and may have even had water flowing on its surface. However, as the planet heated up, the oceans evaporated, and its surface temperature became so hot that any life would have been destroyed.

    Venus' atmosphere consists mostly of carbon dioxide and traps heat in the same way that greenhouse gases do here on Earth. That's why Venus often serves as an eerie vision of what Earth's future may look like if we don't get greenhouse gas emissions under control.

    Examining the potential habitability of Venus would not only answer the question of whether or not life began on other worlds, but it would also inform us of the potential future of our own world.

    “Venus is so similar in terms of history and early formation to Earth, yet its current environment is totally different,” Mogul says. “So for that reason, you know, it's kind of a nice allegory to perhaps look at what could happen to Earth in the future.”

    WHAT'S NEXT — Scientists are hoping for further observations of Venus through future missions that can confirm the presence of phosphine in its clouds and look for other signs of biosignatures.

    Mogul hopes that NASA’s proposed DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) mission, which is meant to conduct an atmospheric probe of Venus, receives enough funding to launch in the near future.

    We Know Much More About UFOs and Aliens Than We think

    “I can assure you that flying saucers, given that they exist, are not constructed by any power on Earth.” -President Harry Truman, April 4, 1950 White House press conference.

    “For the next two or three days the saucers passed over the base daily. Sometimes they appeared in groups of four, other times as many as sixteen. They could outmaneuver and outflank us seemingly at will. They moved at varying speeds—sometimes very fast, sometimes slow—and other times they would come to a dead stop as we zoomed past underneath.” – Astronaut Gordon Cooper, describing his first direct encounters with UFO’s while serving as a military pilot in Germany.

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    “These (gray aliens) were living, breathing creatures, just as mortal as you and I. They had feelings, they had families. They had a cultural society. The one thing they didn’t have was hate, hostility. They had anger, from what I observed—and I don’t know how to explain it better than stating—it was an intellectual anger.

    “They could not… comprehend how a species such as us, that had such great potential to do such wonderful and marvelous things, could do such horrible and nightmarish things to one another.” -Master Sgt. Clifford Stone, ret., who testified that he encountered “gray” aliens while working in a US Army unit that retrieved crashed extraterrestrial vehicles. 2001

    “I suspect that we have, indeed, been contacted—perhaps even visited—by extraterrestrial beings, and the US government, in collusion with the other national powers of the earth, is determined to keep this information from the general public.” -former CIA official Victor Marchetti quoted in “How the CIA Views the UFO Phenomenon,” Second Look, vol. 1, no. 7. Washington, D.C. 1979.

    “We alone cannot take credit for our recent advancement in certain scientific fields. We have been helped.” -Dr. Herman Oberth, NASA German rocket scientist. When asked to identify the helpers, Oberth replied, “The people of other worlds.”

    Imagine the following. You go to a science museum and proceed to the hall of ancient civilizations. There, you walk among scenes of primitive life: crude shelters, fires, and rudimentary handicraft.

    As you bend close to look at semi-apes with small skulls and big jawbones, a powerful stench overwhelms you. Suddenly, it hits you—this is no ordinary museum. When you approach the displays they turn to life, transporting you to the actual scene of such events: the smoke, the fear and the passions of a cruel but beautiful landscape.

    Your experience would be similar to what aliens might feel when visiting the planet Earth, with one exception. Some aliens could be expected to have advanced to a level that is many times beyond the difference between you and the semi-apes in the museum.

    How could aliens be multiply more advanced than laser surgery, semiconductors and jet flight?

    Wouldn’t they at least sympathize with our literature, our legal institutions and our charity?

    They probably would, yet some might be pained to see humans make the same mistakes that they, themselves, made thousands, if not billions of years earlier. They might want to hint at a better way of life. No doubt, some would want to help us evolve more peaceably.

    Other less-advanced aliens might try to take advantage of our backwardness in order to expand their sphere of influence, to have access to our vicinity’s resources.

    In some cases, that would go against the larger off-world grain, but if the offending aliens were formidable intruders from another galaxy, for example, there might be little that Earth’s neighbors could do to turn them back.

    The dangers of conflict would be too severe. Instead, neighboring aliens might try to educate humans to be more responsible for themselves and for the larger universe.

    They might find us a stubborn breed, prone to superstition and a reluctance to explain Bronze Age religious concepts scientifically. On the other hand, an alien visitor might be impressed by the intellectual movements of our last 20 to 30 years.

    1) feminist thinking that distinguishes between biological gender and exaggerated popular ideas about gender

    2) a global movement to recognize both the rights and the human resources of native peoples

    3) a deepening awareness of our finite global ecology

    4) a delayed but important popularization of both the concepts and the logic of quantum physics. *Although most people haven’t fully assimilated the fundamental weirdness of quantum physics, we use computers that are based on such phenomena daily

    No doubt, one further trend in human thought would stand out sharply.

    A large number of the world’s peoples have been exposed to, if not deeply influenced by, portrayals of extraterrestrial life.

    Unlike the world of fifty years ago, most people now recognize that large-headed figures with almond-shaped eyes represent a certain kind of alien.

    High tech companies run ad campaigns comparing their innovations to the otherworldly, and the all-time list of top-grossing movies is thick with films about extraterrestrials.

    The alien theme runs much deeper. According to recent opinion polls, more than 40 percent of the people in the United States think there’s a government plot to cover up the facts of UFO’s.

    That’s nearly 100 million people (more than voted in the last US election). About one-third of those polled think that humans have actually made contact with aliens.

    Believe it or not, other nations’ news outlets regularly feature footage of UFO’s moving across their skies. For example, millions have seen large formations of non-human objects passing behind clouds on Mexico’s version of “60 Minutes,” anchored by Jaime Maussan.

    Defense ministry commissions in both France and Britain recently published reports concluding that their governments should prepare for the high “probability” that aliens visit the earth, and that downed alien technology has found its way into a black budget structure within the United States.

    Just a few years ago Russia’s chairman of its joint chiefs of staff, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, announced that his government regularly observes alien craft and has possession of downed alien technology. Chinese officials speak openly about the subject, as have officials in numerous other nations.

    In fact, what were once known as UFO’s are increasingly described by generic type, or as “IFO’s” instead: identified flying objects.

    The Torah’s Teachings on Alien Life

    For the seeker of the strange and unusual, a wealth of interesting topics can be found in the mystic traditions of Judaism. One of the more famous legends from this faith to become popularly associated with modern Forteana involves the “Golem,” a literal man brought to life from mud by the Maharal of Prague, Judah Loew ben Bezalel, in the 1500s. However, the creation of mud-men by magical means is hardly the only area of the esoteric that the Jewish faith encompasses.

    Much like the Holy Church of Rome, which acknowledges that there are scientific, and at times even scriptural justifications for life on other planets, much can be found in the holy texts of the Torah that seem to point us toward the same line of thought. Often, it is argued that for a divine intelligence or “creator” to exist, it would seem odd for such a being to begin the great work of creating conscious life throughout our universe… but if life were to exist on other planets, how might those varieties of intelligence differ from you or I? Also, would those differences merely be physical in nature, or would the same sorts of differences we might expect of alien life carry over into the spiritual realm just as well?

    An article appearing at the website deals with a few of the issues that extraterrestrial life forms may face under a God shared by Earthlings. As the Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan expresses in his article “Extraterrestrial Life,” one view holds that while aliens certainly could exist on distant planets, they may not be gifted with such human graces as “free will”. He cites the work of the Jewish Sefer Habris (The Book of the Covenant), believed to have been authored in the twelfth century by the biblical commentator Rabbi Yosef Kimchi, which divulges the following about alien life existing elsewhere:

    [W]e find the opinion of the Sefer Habris who states that extraterrestrial life does exist, but that it does not possess free will. The latter is the exclusive possession of man, for whom the universe was created. The 18,000 worlds mentioned earlier, in his opinion, are inhabited physical worlds. The proof that he brings for his thesis is most ingenious. In the song of Deborah, we find the verse, “Cursed is Meroz… cursed are its inhabitants” (Judges 5:23). In the Talmud, we find the opinion that Meroz is the name of a star. According to this opinion, the fact that Scripture states, “Cursed is Meroz… cursed are its inhabitants” is clear proof from the words of our Sages for extraterrestrial life.

    Of course, even this proof is subject to refutation, for the Zohar also follows the opinion that Meroz is a star, yet states that “its inhabitants” refers to its “camp,” that is, most probably, to the planets surrounding it. Nevertheless, the simple meaning of the verse seems to support the opinion of the Sefer Habris.

    The Sefer Habris also notes, according to Rabbi Kaplan, that humankind “should not expect the creatures of another world to resemble earthly life, any more than sea creatures resemble those of land.” This is much in keeping, of course, with popular conceptions about alien life from a modern scientific standpoint, of course: if life evolved on a planet vastly different from our own, why would we ever assume that these beings would resemble humans in any way?

    Arguably, in general terms, when we think of non-human entities on Earth, this would entail other creatures from the animal kingdom, which, from a theological perspective, might not be viewed as thinking, reasoning beings hence, in the sense of free-will being associated with beings who reason, it could be that the supposition that alien life would exist in a world void of free will might have stemmed (early on, at least) from the general presumptions that might have come to interpret what, precisely, “non human life” should entail.

    Do the theological perspectives of Judaism really differ from that of Christianity, or perhaps other faiths such as Hindu and other traditions, when it comes to the study of alien life? Furthermore, is there any knowledge that might be gained in terms of the study of extraterrestrial intelligence by applying a largely theological interpretation, or would this merely better us in hopes of deepening our spirituality, perhaps in a cosmological sense?

    Has alien life been detected in the clouds of Venus?

    An artist’s concept of the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP), a delta-winged airship, flying through the thick clouds surrounding Venus. Image credit: Northrop Grumman

    Researchers say simple microbial lifeforms might exist in the upper atmosphere of the world that has been dubbed Earth’s evil twin – and might even have been detected.

    Mysterious dark patches have been observed in the clouds of Venus when viewed in ultraviolet light. They appear to resemble the light-absorbing properties of some bacteria on Earth, say the scientists.

    Venus is a rocky world similar in size to our own, but incredibly inhospitable at the surface. The temperature there is twice the maximum setting in a kitchen oven and it rains sulphuric acid.

    And if any astronaut avoided getting roasted or poisoned, they would be crushed to death by the pressure of the dense atmosphere.

    However, new research by an international team of scientists says extraterrestrial microbes could survive by being blown around by winds in the cooler cloud tops of Venus.

    Study co-author David J. Smith, of NASA’s Ames Research Center, says that similar bacteria and other organisms on Earth have been found alive at altitudes of as much as 41 km (about 25 miles).

    Microbes have also been found living in the harshest environments on our planet, including, toxic sludge, acidic lakes, hot springs and hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean.

    The team’s findings are published in the latest edition of the journal Astrobiology. You can read the original paper here.

    Planetary scientist Sanjay Limaye, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center, led the new research.

    Dr Limaye is a NASA scientist working with a Japanese robotic space probe, Akatsuki, that is currently exploring Venus. He said: “Venus has had plenty of time to evolve life on its own.”

    Dr Limaye wants to explore the Venusian atmosphere more following a chance meeting with Grzegorz Slowik, of Poland’s University of Zielona Góra, who drew attention to the light-absorbing bacteria.

    Spectroscopic studies show the dark patches in Venus’s clouds are made up of concentrated sulphuric acid and other unknown light-absorbing particles.

    Professor Rakesh Mogul, a biological chemist at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, said: “On Earth, we know that life can thrive in very acidic conditions, can feed on carbon dioxide, and produce sulfuric acid.”

    Venus, which is closer to the Sun than Earth, may have been habitable, with water on its surface, around two billion years ago.

    But scientists believe its climate may have gone out of control due to global warming. Today the dry surface, which can only be mapped by radar through the dense clouds, is covered with active volcanoes.

    The possibility of life in the clouds of Venus is not a new one, but has been discussed since the late 1960s.

    Venus scientists are keen to send balloons or airships to drift in the planet’s atmosphere and find out more about what it is made of.

    One advanced concept being prepared in the USA is for a delta-winged aircraft called VAMP (the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform) to be dropped by an orbiter into the clouds.

    It would spend up to a year manoeuvring between the upper and mid cloud layers, gathering data to send back to Earth. During the Venusian day, it would fly in the higher atmosphere, charging its batteries from the sunlight, before dipping to lower regions again at night.

    Alien life could exist in clouds on Venus, despite planet’s ‘hellish’ environment

    "Venus is a hellish place of high temperatures and crushing air pressure," scientists once said in describing conditions on the second planet from the sun, but apparently its clouds contain the right conditions to possibly support alien life, a new study finds.

    Computer models have suggested that Venus once had a habitable climate for hundreds of millions of years and liquid water on its surface for even longer.

    The lower cloud layers on Venus contain favorable conditions, including "moderate temperatures and pressures," that could host micrcoorganisms, according to the research published in Astrobiology.

    Researchers think there could be alien life floating in the clouds of Venus

    &mdash Motherboard (@motherboard) April 3, 2018

    The possibility of the existence of microbial life on Venus is not new. It dates back decades to the late 1960s. A 2004 study also concluded that chemical and physical conditions in the planet's lower cloud layers, could support microorganisms.

    In the latest research, scientists point to the dark patches on Venus' clouds. They believe the clouds are made of sulfuric acid, iron, carbon dioxide and light-absorbing particles, like those found on Earth, and compared the dark spots to algae blooms in lakes, pointing to the size of the particles in the dark spots.

    Researchers are urging more studies and have suggested gathering samples from Venus' clouds to find out for sure whether alien life truly exists there.

    NASA Venus mission: Expert pinpoints where to look for alien life

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    Venus: Life could be discovered by spacecraft says scientist

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    NASA will send two probes to Venus between the years of 2028 and 2030. The two probes will be searching for microbial life, most likely found in the atmosphere of the planet if it is there.

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    The announcement has understandably got experts enthused by the prospect of the space agency finding some form of life. And one has revealed where NASA should be looking for life.

    Gail Iles, senior lecturer in physics, RMIT University, wrote in The Conversation: "There are certain criteria for a planet to be considered habitable.

    "It must have a suitable temperature, atmospheric pressure similar to Earth's and available water.

    "In this regard, Venus probably wouldn't have attracted much attention if it were outside our Solar System.

    NASA Venus mission: Expert pinpoints where to look for alien life (Image: GETTY)

    Experts hope to know more about the surface of Venus (Image: GETTY)

    "Its skies are filled with thick clouds of sulfuric acid (which is dangerous for humans), the land is a desolate backdrop of extinct volcanoes and 90 percent of the surface is covered in red hot lava flows.

    "Despite this, NASA will search the planet for environmental conditions that may have once supported life.

    "In particular, any evidence that Venus may have once had an ocean would change all our existing models of the planet.

    "And interestingly, conditions on Venus are far less harsh at a height of about 50 km (30 miles) above the surface.

    The two missions will go to Venus between 2028 and 2030 (Image: GETTY)

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    "In fact, the pressure at these higher altitudes eases so much that conditions become much more Earth-like, with breathable air and balmy temperatures.

    "If life (in the form of microbes) does exist on Venus, this is probably where it would be found."

    The two probes going to Venus are the DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) and VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy).

    The former will analyse the Venusian atmosphere to determine why the planet which is on average closest to Earth has become a boiling hell hole.

    An illustration of the surface of Venus (Image: GETTY)

    The probe will also send NASA high-resolution images of the surface of Venus.

    DAVINCI+ will also be able to measure molecules in the atmosphere - specifically looking for phosphine.

    Last year, scientists believed they found evidence of large swathes of phosphine in Venus' atmosphere.

    By current understandings, phosphine is created through biological processes which suggested, albeit slightly, that there could be some form of microbial life on Venus.

    Venus facts (Image: EXPRESS)


    However, in the months since, experts believe there was a mistake in the amount of phosphine they measured.

    This means that whatever phosphine was there could be caused by geological processes.

    NASA will be hoping to put the debate to bed once and for all.

    VERITAS will map the surface of Venus to discover more about its geological history and whether volcanoes are still active.

    Venus, the blue marble

    While today's Earth is nicknamed the "blue marble," it hasn't always laid claim to that title. Billions of years ago, when the sun was 30 percent dimmer and the Earth was likely covered nearly entirely by ice, Venus may have been a warm and wet water world. A 2006 mission by the European Space Agency's Venus Express spacecraft backed up this theory with the discovery that the trace gases given off by the planet contained twice as much hydrogen as oxygen. It also detected high levels of the isotope deuterium, a heavier form of hydrogen that's common in Earth's oceans.

    "Everything points to there being large amounts of water in the past," Colin Wilson, a member of the Venus Express science team, told Time.

    According to the researchers, habitable conditions on Venus may have persisted for as long as 750 million years, with surface water lingering for as long as 2 billion years. Such an extended run before the sun warmed and greenhouse gases turned the planet into an inferno may have given rise to life. As study lead and planetary scientist Sanjay Limaye noted, this habitable time period is even longer that the one enjoyed by Mars.

    "Venus has had plenty of time to evolve life on its own," he said.

    Is Venus potentially habitable?

    Certainly not its surface. It’s hot enough down there to melt metal and its surface often gets coated in sulfuric acid rain. However, the habitability of Venus' clouds has discussed for decades, most recently in a paper published in 2018.

    A belt of clouds about 50 km above Venus have long been thought of as a place just as likely as anywhere else in the Solar System to host life. In this lower cloud layer there are favorable-ish conditions for microbial life, including moderate temperatures and pressures.


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