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This artist’s concept shows the proposed VERITAS spacecraft using its radar to produce high-resolution maps of Venus’ topographic and geologic features.

This artist’s concept shows the proposed VERITAS spacecraft using its radar to produce high-resolution maps of Venus’ topographic and geologic features.

You may have read some of the headlines lately about the discovery of life on Venus.

First off, nobody discovered life on Venus. Let’s unpack this often misinterpreted news item and find out what actually went on.

The search for life on other worlds is nothing new; people have looked up for a very long time, wondering whether there was anyone else out there. With the dawn of the space age we discovered very quickly that if life was out there, it would certainly not look like us. The vaguely humanoid aliens from science fiction and fantasy are exactly that — fiction and fantasy.

But that doesn’t mean that some form of life isn’t out there, or that it was out there at some point.

Finding actual proof of life requires some pretty close observation, and it’s not like there is just one specific phenomenon to look for. But if you find something that is generally associated with life processes, things are starting to get interesting, and warrant a closer look.

What was found on Venus, through distant observation, is the gas phosphine. On Earth, phosphine can be produced when organic matter breaks down. We have no idea what creates the phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus. The planet’s surface is an unlikely source — with an average temperature of 860 degrees Fahrenheit it’s hot enough to melt lead. The atmosphere is very thick and full of noxious corrosive gases. 

While several space probes have landed there they just survived for a few minutes. It’s really difficult to insulate the electronic components of a spacecraft against such extreme heat. The Parker Solar Probe, which is currently making several daring close approaches to the sun has a chunky heat shield to hide behind, and it minimizes the amount of time it spends in the insanely high temperatures of the sun’s corona by going at mindboggling speeds. A spacecraft landing on Venus gets the heat from all sides, and there is no place to hide.

So it seems logical to look at places higher up, away from the crazy hot surface. On Earth you can find tiny lifeforms living in rain droplets in the clouds — could not the same be true for Venus’ clouds?

Theoretically, yes. But the mechanics of weather on the two planets are very different, and the corrosive atmosphere on Venus would make it very hard for life as we know it to exist.

And therein lies the rub, doesn’t it? We’re pretty good at recognizing life forms here on Earth, because the basic biological processes aren’t all that different from all the others. However, even our planet still holds plenty of surprises. When thriving communities were found at crushing depths on the ocean floor, crowding around volcanic vents, we were stunned — and delighted. The water there is hotter than boiling, and it’s pitch black dark — the sun’s light never penetrates that far down. And yet, there are quite complex life forms that have very little in common with the rest of life on the planet.

We have also found life embedded in solid rock, and even inside of nuclear reactors. Those are so-called extremophiles, microbes that have adapted to the most brutal circumstances and somehow eke out a living there. So yes, maybe there are life forms that spend their entire life cycle suspended in the Venusian cloud layers, but short of going there and scooping some up and observing them directly, we’ll never know for sure.

Not too long ago people envisioned Venus as a tropical sister to Earth — covered in hot, humid swamp lands. But the first few spacecraft flybys were able to measure Venus’ surface temperature, and later on others, like the Magellan mission, have radar-mapped the surface in amazing detail. With the reports of the hellish environment on Venus, public interest in the exploration of Venus took a nose-dive. But maybe the phosphine discovery is helping to put Venus back into the spotlight, and more missions to Earth’s strange twin will be planned now. Some of them might even be privately funded; since those first expeditions spaceflight has ceased to be the privilege of government agencies, and there are now plenty of private companies with the technical know-how to do those trips. And there is a proposed NASA mission to Venus called VERITAS in the works as well!

Beate Czogalla is the Professor of Theater Design in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Georgia College & State University. She has had a lifelong interest in space exploration and has been a Solar System Ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/ NASA for many years. She can be reached at [email protected] .   

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Source: https://www.unionrecorder.com/opinion/our-space-is-there-really-life-on-venus/article_4ec09eb6-025c-11eb-8cff-37e8ca378c16.html

Meteoroid, Atmosphere of Earth, Venus, Earth-grazing fireball

World news – CA – OUR SPACE: Is there really life on Venus?

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