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Moon and Venus

March 28, 2020

The clouds of Venus are especially bright. They reflect about two-thirds of the sunlight that strikes them. That makes Venus a brilliant target in our night sky.

Yet there are dark sheets inside the clouds. They absorb ultraviolet energy from the Sun. They could be caused by volcanoes. But it’s also possible they could be big “mats” of bacteria — perhaps the survivors of a once-thriving planet.

Today, the surface of Venus is decidedly un-friendly. The temperature is 865 degrees, the “air” is made of carbon dioxide, and the pressure is equal to a depth of two-thirds of a mile in Earth’s oceans. No Earthly organisms could survive those harsh conditions.

Yet some Earthly bacteria could survive about 30 to 40 miles above Venus’s surface. Temperatures and pressures are similar to those at Earth’s surface. And the clouds are made of sulfuric acid — a source of chemical energy to help sustain the bacteria.

It’s possible that Venus was comfortable for billions of years. That could have been enough time for life to evolve — then move to the clouds when conditions got worse,

No Venus-orbiting spacecraft has had the ability to measure the composition of the dark regions in the clouds. But future missions might target them — perhaps telling us if anything is living on our sister world.

And Venus teams with the crescent Moon to put on a great show this evening. They’re well up in the sky at nightfall, and don’t set until shortly before midnight.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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