Sara Muharremi, Staff Writer
Some of us may know Venus from Bananarama’s song, or from the commercial for the Gillette razor. However, Venus is also the second planet from the sun, named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, and is known for being the hottest and brightest planet in our solar system. Moreover, there have recently been new discoveries and theories made regarding possible signs of life.
If you’ve been keeping up with my other YU Observer articles about life on Mars, you’d know that I’m an avid Groupon peruser, but with all these planets popping up with life, I’m going to run out of money buying land on planets.
Venus is commonly known as Earth’s “hotter twin” — literally. Venus’ size, mass and proximity to Earth is very similar to our own planet, however its thick atmosphere — which is mainly made up of carbon dioxide — can trap heat from the sun making its surface as hot as 880 degrees Fahrenheit! These extremely high temperatures have made it hard for spacecraft to be able to land for extended periods of time for fear of overheating any electronics.
Higher in its atmosphere, however, Venus contains clouds with droplets of sulfuric acid. In the clouds the temperatures are far less extreme and scientists think they may have detected signs of phosphine gas, a flammable foul-smelling gas that “can only be made by life — whether human or microbe” in the atmosphere. Ironically this gas is also extremely dangerous and kills anything that relies on oxygen — such as humans or microbes.
“Life is the only thing that will put energy into making molecules … [o]therwise, in the universe, chemistry only happens with it’s energetically favorable,” says Clara Sousa-Silva a research scientist at MIT, in a comment to the National Geographic, who spent many years in graduate school researching whether or not phosphine could be a legitimate extraterrestrial biosignature.
So how could this indicate a sign of life? There are forms of life that don’t require oxygen for survival — called anaerobic organisms. An example of an anaerobic organism would be anaerobic bacteria and the theory is that they could be living within Venus’ clouds and producing the phosphine gas. The clouds have a much cooler temperature in comparison to the planet’s surface, and contain basic components of life within them such as sunlight, water, and organic molecules. This offers an ideal environment for microbes to metabolize and live; despite the sulfuric acid drops.
Using Earth as a comparison, we have seen microbes survive and thrive in extreme environments such as volcanic fields or in cloud particles. According to National Geographic, “[c]louds are ephemeral on Earth, so it’s unlikely that they support permanent ecosystems, but on Venus, cloudy days are in the forecast for millions or even billions of years.”
Similar to Mars, Venus has also been thought to have once had a liquid water ocean. However, a significant rise in greenhouse gases on the planet over the last billion years has made the planet into what it is today. But who’s to say that some microbes didn’t mutate or move up to the clouds to thrive and survive?