Acid-neutralizing life forms can create a habitable environment in Venus clouds

Venus, with its dense carbon dioxide atmosphere and surface so hot that it melts lead, is a scorching and suffocating desert in which life as we know it can not exist. The planet’s clouds are similarly uninhabitable, and the planet is covered in droplets of caustic sulfuric acid, which burns the skin.

However, a new study supports the old idea that if life existed, it might have housed Venus in the clouds. The study authors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cardiff University and the University of Cambridge have identified a chemical pathway through which life can neutralize the acidic environment of Venus and create self-sustaining, habitable packages in Venus clouds.

Scientists have long observed puzzling anomalies in the atmosphere of Venus. It has been difficult to explain these chemical signs, such as dense points of oxygen and asospheric particles that do not look like round drops of sulfuric acid.

Perhaps the most confusing issue is the presence of ammonia. This gas was discovered with skepticism in the 1970s and, according to scientists, should not be produced by any known process on Venus.

According to MIT News, researchers in a new study modeled a set of chemical processes and showed that if ammonia were present, it would initiate a cascade of chemical reactions that neutralize surrounding sulfuric acid droplets and could also reverse most of the abnormalities observed in clouds. Explain the planet Venus. Regarding the source of ammonia itself, the authors suggest that the most likely explanation is biological origin and not a non-biological source such as lightning or volcanic eruptions.

The new tempting hypothesis is being tested, and researchers are preparing a list of chemical cues for future missions to be measured in Venus clouds, which will eventually confirm or disprove their idea. “Sarah Sieger, a study author and professor in the Department of Earth, Atmosphere and Planet Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says:

No life of the kind we know can survive in the droplets of the planet Venus. But the important thing is that maybe there is life there and it changes its environment in a way that is livable.

The possibility of life on Venus

Last year, scientists, including Ciger and co-authors, reported the detection of phosphine in the planet’s clouds. On Earth, phosphine is a gas that is mainly produced through biological interactions. The discovery of phosphine on Venus leaves room for the possibility of life. However, this discovery was opposed and opposed. “The diagnosis of phosphine became very controversial,” says Sieger. “But phosphine has revitalized researchers studying the planet.”

Another study author, Paul Reimer, combined data from previous missions to Venus. In these data, he identified anomalies or chemical effects in the clouds that remained unexplained for decades. In addition to the presence of oxygen and non-spherical particles, other anomalies included unexpected levels of water vapor and sulfur dioxide.

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Reimer suggested that these abnormalities might be explained by dust. He argued that minerals that moved from the surface of Venus and entered the clouds could interact with sulfuric acid and cause some, but not all, of the observed anomalies. However, although this process was chemically possible, it was not physically proven: a lot of dust had to enter the clouds to create the observed anomalies.

Sieger and colleagues wondered if ammonia could explain the anomalies. The gas was uncertainly detected in the clouds of Venus in the 1970s by Venus 8 and Pioneer Venus probes. The presence of ammonia or NH3 The puzzle was unsolved. Siger says:

There should be no ammonia on Venus. Hydrogen is attached to it and there is very little hydrogen around it. Any gas that does not belong to its environmental texture is suspected to be made by life.

Living clouds on Venus

If researchers assume that life is the source of ammonia, can this explain other anomalies in Venus’ clouds? To find the answer to this question, researchers modeled a set of chemical processes. They found that if life produced ammonia in the most efficient way possible, the associated chemical reactions would naturally produce oxygen.

When ammonia is present in the clouds, it dissolves in sulfuric acid droplets, neutralizing the acid and making the droplets relatively habitable. The entry of ammonia into the droplets causes them to change from spherical and liquid to non-spherical and slurry-like.

When ammonia is dissolved in sulfuric acid, this reaction causes the surrounding sulfur dioxide to dissolve as well. Therefore, the presence of ammonia could explain most of the anomalies observed in the clouds of Venus.

Researchers also show that sources such as lightning, volcanic eruptions, and even meteorite impacts can not chemically produce the amount of ammonia needed to explain these anomalies. However, life may be able to do that.

Researchers point out that there are forms of life on Earth (especially in our own stomachs) that produce ammonia to neutralize the highly acidic environment and make it livable. “There are very acidic environments on Earth where life exists, but it bears no resemblance to Venus unless life neutralizes some of those droplets,” says Sieger.

Scientists may have the opportunity in the coming years to study the presence of ammonia and signs of life on Venus, as a series of proposed missions with a personal budget that Ciger is the lead researcher will be conducted to measure ammonia and other signs of life in Venus’s clouds. . “Venus has long, unexplained atmospheric anomalies that are unbelievable,” says Sieger. “It leaves room for life to exist.”

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