With extreme temperatures, hurricane winds, and intense volcanic activity, Venus seems to be the last place to look for life in the solar system, but a new study suggests it could still exist in the planet’s acidic clouds.
The second planet from the Sun is often called Earth’s “sister” due to its similar size, mass, and density, but that’s where the similarities end. Unlike on our planet, temperatures on Venus reach 464 degrees Celsius (867 degrees Fahrenheit) as its atmosphere mainly consists of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. It had oceans in the past that could’ve potentially held life, but all that water evaporated.
Still, while being impossible on the surface, life could still remain in the clouds of sulfuric acid that shroud Venus, as they may well turn out to be more habitable than was believed earlier, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences magazine on Monday.
The team, led by Sara Seager, an astrophysicist and planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, created a chemical model of the Venusian atmosphere that “predicts that the clouds are not entirely made of sulfuric acid, but are partially composed of ammonium salt slurries, which may be the result of biological production of ammonia in cloud droplets.”
This means that the clouds are “no more acidic” than some of the extreme environments that harbor life on Earth, the paper insisted.
Ammonia is essential for many biological processes, and its presence in the cloud droplets may suggest that “life could be making its own environment on Venus,” the scientists said.
“This study is suggesting that there is ammonia in the atmosphere and this chain of chemical reactions is actually happening,” Seager told Inverse. “And a really nice consequence of that is that some of the cloud droplets on Venus would be more habitable than previously thought.”
Seager was among the researchers who suggested the presence of phosphine – another “bio-signature” gas – in the clouds on Venus in 2020, and the current study is the continuation of that work.
However, she pointed out that the habitability of the Venusian atmosphere is currently just a hypothesis, expressing hope that “in the very far future… we can try to bring a sample of the cloud material back to Earth and look for life itself.”