February 26, 2024

Alien Life? Acid-Neutralizing Life-Forms Could Make Habitable Pockets in Venus’ Clouds

Artists conception of the aerial biosphere in the cloud layers of Venus environment. In this image, theoretical microbial life in the clouds of Venus resides inside protective cloud particles and is carried by winds around the world. Credit: J. Petkowska
A brand-new research study shows its theoretically possible. The hypothesis could be evaluated quickly with proposed Venus-bound missions.
Its tough to imagine a more unwelcoming world than our closest planetary neighbor. With an atmosphere thick with co2, and a surface area hot enough to melt lead, Venus is a suffocating and scorched wasteland where life as we know it could not make it through. The planets clouds are likewise hostile, blanketing the world in beads of sulfuric acid caustic adequate to burn a hole through human skin.
And yet, a new study supports the longstanding idea that if life exists, it might make a home in Venus clouds. The studys authors, from MIT, Cardiff University, and Cambridge University, have determined a chemical pathway by which life could reduce the effects of Venus acidic environment, developing a self-sustaining, habitable pocket in the clouds.

Within Venus atmosphere, scientists have actually long observed puzzling abnormalities– chemical signatures that are hard to describe, such as little concentrations of oxygen and nonspherical particles unlike sulfuric acids round beads. Possibly most confusing is the existence of ammonia, a gas that was tentatively found in the 1970s, which by all accounts ought to not be produced through any chemical procedure known on Venus.
In their new study, the researchers modeled a set of chemical procedures to show that if ammonia is certainly present, the gas would set off a cascade of chain reactions that would neutralize surrounding beads of sulfuric acid and could also describe most of the anomalies observed in Venus clouds. As for the source of ammonia itself, the authors propose that the most possible explanation is of biological origin, instead of a nonbiological source such as lightning or volcanic eruptions.
As they compose in their research study, the chemistry recommends that “life might be making its own environment on Venus.”
This tantalizing new hypothesis is testable, and the researchers supply a list of chemical signatures for future missions to measure in Venus clouds, to either validate or oppose their idea.
” No life that we understand of might survive in the Venus droplets,” states research study co-author Sara Seager, the Class of 1941 Professor of Planetary Sciences in MITs Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). “But the point is, possibly some life is there, and is modifying its environment so that it is livable.”
The research studys co-authors include Janusz Petkowski, William Bains, and Paul Rimmer, who are connected with MIT, Cardiff University, and Cambridge University.
Life suspect
” Life on Venus” was a trending expression last year, when scientists including Seager and her co-authors reported the detection of phosphine in the worlds clouds. In the world, phosphine is a gas that is produced mainly through biological interactions. The discovery of phosphine on Venus leaves room for the possibility of life. Since then, nevertheless, the discovery has actually been extensively contested.
” The phosphine detection ended up becoming exceptionally controversial,” Seager says. “But phosphine was like a gateway, and theres been this revival in individuals studying Venus.”
Motivated to look more carefully, Rimmer began combing through data from previous missions to Venus. In these information, he identified abnormalities, or chemical signatures, in the clouds that had actually gone unusual for decades. In addition to the existence of oxygen and nonspherical particles, abnormalities included unforeseen levels of water vapor and sulfur dioxide.
Rimmer proposed the anomalies might be discussed by dust. He argued that minerals, swept up from Venus surface area and into the clouds, might interact with sulfuric acid to produce some, though not all, of the observed abnormalities. He revealed the chemistry had a look at, but the physical requirements were impractical: An enormous quantity of dust would need to loft into the clouds to produce the observed abnormalities.
Seager and her colleagues questioned if the anomalies could be discussed by ammonia. In the 1970s, the gas was tentatively found in the planets clouds by the Venera 8 and Pioneer Venus probes. The presence of ammonia, or NH3, was an unsolved mystery.
” Ammonia should not be on Venus,” Seager states. “It has actually hydrogen connected to it, and theres extremely little hydrogen around. Any gas that does not belong in the context of its environment is immediately suspicious for being made by life.”
Livable clouds
If the team were to presume that life was the source of ammonia, could this discuss the other abnormalities in Venus clouds? The researchers modeled a series of chemical processes searching for an answer.
They found that if life were producing ammonia in the most effective method possible, the associated chemical reactions would naturally yield oxygen. Once present in the clouds, ammonia would dissolve in beads of sulfuric acid, successfully reducing the effects of the acid to make the beads relatively habitable. The introduction of ammonia into the beads would transform their formerly round, liquid shape into more of a nonspherical, salt-like slurry. When ammonia liquified in sulfuric acid, the response would set off any surrounding sulfur dioxide to dissolve also.
The presence of ammonia then could certainly describe most of the major abnormalities seen in Venus clouds. The researchers likewise reveal that sources such as lightning, volcanic eruptions, and even a meteorite strike might not chemically produce the quantity of ammonia needed to discuss the abnormalities. Life, however, might.
The team keeps in mind that there are life-forms on Earth– particuarly in our own stomachs– that produce ammonia to reduce the effects of and make livable an otherwise extremely acidic environment.
” There are very acidic environments on Earth where life does live, but its nothing like the environment on Venus — unless life is reducing the effects of some of those droplets,” Seager states.
Scientists may have a chance to look for the presence of ammonia, and indications of life, in the next numerous years with the Venus Life Finder Missions, a set of proposed privately funded missions, of which Seager is primary detective, that strategy to send spacecraft to Venus to measure its clouds for ammonia and other signatures of life.
” Venus has sticking around, unusual climatic anomalies that are incredible,” Seager says. “It leaves room for the possibility of life.”
Referral: “Production of ammonia makes Venusian clouds habitable and describes observed cloud-level chemical abnormalities” by William Bains, Janusz J. Petkowski, Paul B. Rimmer and Sara Seager, 20 December 2021, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.DOI: 10.1073/ pnas.2110889118.
This research was supported in part by the Simons Foundation, the Change Happens Foundation, and the Breakthrough Initiatives.

In this photo, hypothetical microbial life in the clouds of Venus lives inside protective cloud particles and is carried by winds around the world.” Life on Venus” was a trending expression last year, when scientists including Seager and her co-authors reported the detection of phosphine in the worlds clouds. He argued that minerals, swept up from Venus surface and into the clouds, might communicate with sulfuric acid to produce some, though not all, of the observed abnormalities. In the 1970s, the gas was tentatively detected in the planets clouds by the Venera 8 and Pioneer Venus probes. The existence of ammonia then might undoubtedly explain many of the significant abnormalities seen in Venus clouds.