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Venus' atmospheric chemistry and cloud characteristics are compatible with Venusian life

Bains, William, Petkowski, Janusz J. and Seager, Sara 2024. Venus' atmospheric chemistry and cloud characteristics are compatible with Venusian life. Astrobiology 24 (4) , pp. 371-385. 10.1089/ast.2022.0113

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Venus is Earth's sister planet, with similar mass and density but an uninhabitably hot surface, an atmosphere with a water activity 50–100 times lower than anywhere on Earths' surface, and clouds believed to be made of concentrated sulfuric acid. These features have been taken to imply that the chances of finding life on Venus are vanishingly small, with several authors describing Venus' clouds as “uninhabitable,” and that apparent signs of life there must therefore be abiotic, or artefactual. In this article, we argue that although many features of Venus can rule out the possibility that Earth life could live there, none rule out the possibility of all life based on what we know of the physical principle of life on Earth. Specifically, there is abundant energy, the energy requirements for retaining water and capturing hydrogen atoms to build biomass are not excessive, defenses against sulfuric acid are conceivable and have terrestrial precedent, and the speculative possibility that life uses concentrated sulfuric acid as a solvent instead of water remains. Metals are likely to be available in limited supply, and the radiation environment is benign. The clouds can support a biomass that could readily be detectable by future astrobiology-focused space missions from its impact on the atmosphere. Although we consider the prospects for finding life on Venus to be speculative, they are not absent. The scientific reward from finding life in such an un-Earthlike environment justifies considering how observations and missions should be designed to be capable of detecting life if it is there.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Physics and Astronomy
Publisher: Mary Ann Liebert
ISSN: 1531-1074
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 21 March 2024
Date of Acceptance: 27 February 2023
Last Modified: 21 May 2024 11:23

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