Chances of Life in Venus
With an atmosphere thick with carbon dioxide, and a surface hot enough to melt lead, Venus is a scorched and suffocating wasteland where life as we know it could not survive. The planet’s clouds are similarly hostile, blanketing the planet in droplets of sulfuric acid caustic enough to burn a hole through human skin. A new study supports the longstanding idea that if life exists, it might make a home in Venus’ clouds.
The study’s authors, from MIT, Cardiff University, and Cambridge University, have identified a chemical pathway by which life could neutralize Venus’ acidic environment, creating a self-sustaining, habitable pocket in the clouds. The researchers modelled a set of chemical processes to show that if ammonia is indeed present, the gas would set off a cascade of chemical reactions that would neutralize surrounding droplets of sulfuric acid and could also explain most of the anomalies observed in Venus’ clouds. As for the source of ammonia itself, the researchers propose that the most acceptable explanation is of biological origin, rather than a non-biological source such as lightning or volcanic eruptions. This new hypothesis is testable, and the researchers provide a list of chemical signatures for future missions to measure in Venus’ clouds, to either confirm or contradict their idea.