Earth’s sister planet, Venus, may have microbes high in its atmosphere.
Researchers want to do further research and are proposing that a future mission to Venus include samples from the cloudy world that would then be analyzed onboard the International Space Station.
At a NASA Astrobiology Institute General Meetingin 2003, up to 600 scientists from around the world speculated about the work of determining how life started and have evolved on our planet as well as others.
Life on planet Venus:
One plausible habitat for microbial life on Venus is in the lower cloud deck of the atmosphere. Both ground-based instruments as well as spacecraft have surveyed the planet, and researchers have determined that the presence of these microbes is plausible.
This is based on the assumption that the microbial life originated in one of Venus’ early oceans or was carried to the planet by meteorites from Earth or Mars. This form of life was then thought to adapt to the harsh atmospheric niche after Venus lost its oceans.
There are several problems that plague these ideas. The microbes would have needed enough time to adapt to the atmosphere from the ocean. Also, researchers don’t know if the Venusian atmosphere is viable as a habitat. Throw in the fact that there is a scarcity of water and plenty of ultraviolet radiation, and you have a very tough life out there for a microbe.
To help the case for life on Venus, researchers and scientists need to look at the Earth’s atmosphere. Earth’s atmosphere, as we already know, contains microbes that grow and reproduce independently. Some people think that Venus’ atmosphere would be a much better environment for microbes to survive and grow in.
The clouds on Venus create a perfect biozone, or benign home for microbes due to the altitude of those clouds. They are at an altitude of 31 miles, below which the atmosphere is too hot, and above which, there is too much ultraviolet radiation and cosmic rays that would destroy such microbic life.
Researchers studying this possible theory believe that the microbes would have developed one or more survival techniques. One way for the microbes to survive is to wrap themselves in sulfur compounds, which would screen out the ultraviolet radiation, but would still allow photosynthesis to occur. That thin shell of sulfur would keep out the sulfuric acid that is found in the Venusian clouds.
Plans are already underway to further investigate this possibility and study the atmosphere of this unusual planet. Lab work is already underway as well as plans to use the Hubble Space Telescope to help researchers better understand the clouds of Venus, and characterize their composition.
Scientists and researchers both believe a sample collection mission of Venus is absolutely necessary. Many different ideas about how this would be done are being formulated, but it would be a very complicated and costly mission.
The European Space Agency (ESA) already scheduled a return trip to Venus, when they and Astrium, the aerospace industry consortium, signed a contract for the development of the Venus Express, the first European spacecraft to visit Venus.
A special study group in Boulder Colorado advised NASA that Venus is too harsh of a place for life to exist on or below the planet’s surface, and while the potential for life in the Venutian clouds can’t be ruled out, this panel suggests that the possibility is extremely low.
While many scientists believe that the possibility of life on Venus is a very real conclusion, there are just as many who believe it is impossible. Venus has repeatedly been targeted for up-close inspection and hopefully, the Venus Express, which launched and will swing into Venus’ orbit in April, will help give researchers more clues about this ve