Venus' clouds could harbour microbial life

Venus could be a better bet for ET than Mars - scientists

These tidbits might seem unrelated at first, but a research team led by planetary scientist Sanjay Limaye of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Space Science and Engineering Center believes that when you put the two together, they suggest life might exist on Earth's closest neighbor - scorching Venus.

An worldwide team of researchers thinks Venus might hide life - floating around merrily in its atmosphere.

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. Study co-author Rakesh Mogul, from California State Polytechnic University, said that the cloudy, highly reflective and acidic atmosphere of Venus is mostly composed of carbon dioxide and water droplets that contain sulfuric acid.

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 harbour microbial life in these areas.

The planet has been dubbed Earth's evil twin because of its incredibly inhospitable surface conditions, where it rains acid and is 462C.

Observing the dark patches on the planet's clouds, the scientists found that they consist of sulfuric acid and light-absorbing particles just like those found on Earth.

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Earlier research conducted using spectroscopy in the ultraviolet light stated that these dark patches on the Venus' clouds are mainly concentrated sulphuric acid along with a patch of unknown light-absorbing particles which was discovered first by ground-based telescopes discovered almost a century ago.

"Venus shows some episodic dark, sulphuric rich patches, with contrasts up to 30-40 per cent 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", said Limaye.

The size of the particles in the dark patches is similar to that of bacteria here on Earth; and if so, they argue, this could make Venus vital in man's longtime search for other life forms. Limaye and colleagues now suggest the possibility these patches could be comparable to algae blooms that can be found on Earth's bodies of water.

The US is preparing a delta-winged aircraft to be dropped into the Venus clouds for a year's data analysis.

On Friday, astronomers announced a new paper laying out the case for the atmosphere of Venus as a possible niche for extraterrestrial microbial life.

The team is also harboring hopes that NASA might secure some extra shuttle space in Russia's upcoming Roscosmos Venera-D mission, now slated for the late 2020s, for the task.


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