Planetary scientists caused a bit of a stir last year when they reported finding phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. Here on Earth, the compound is produced only by living organisms or in the lab. So the finding suggested that microbes could be living in Venus’s clouds.
Later reports have cast doubt on the finding. But no one is giving up on the possibility that microbes might inhabit the clouds.
The surface of Venus isn’t a nice place. It’s hot enough to melt lead, and the pressure is like being at a depth of two-thirds of a mile in Earth’s oceans.
And at first glance, the clouds don’t sound much better — they’re made of sulfuric acid. Yet there’s a layer in the clouds where the temperature and pressure could be comfortable for life. And orbiting spacecraft have detected a possible hint of life within that layer.
One recent study said that microbes could be protected inside droplets of sulfuric acid mixed with water. When the droplets get heavy enough, they’d drop to lower altitudes and evaporate. The microbes would dry out and shut down. Eventually, though, they’d be mixed back up into the clouds, where they’d be encased in new droplets — restoring them to life.
It’ll take new missions to the planet to settle the question of whether anything is living in Venus’s clouds.
And Venus is in the early evening sky right now. Its clouds make it shine brilliantly as the “evening star.” Tonight, it’s next to the crescent Moon.
Script by Damond Benningfield