Life on Venus
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|This article is one of a series on:|
|Life in the Universe|
|Life in the Solar System|
|Life on Venus|
|Life on Earth|
|Life on Mars|
|Life on Europa|
|Life on Titan|
Life outside the Solar System
|Circumstellar habitable zone|
The speculation of life currently existing on Venus decreased significantly since the early 1960s, when spacecraft began studying Venus and it became clear that the conditions on Venus are extreme compared to those on Earth.
The fact that Venus is located closer to the Sun than Earth, raising temperatures on the surface to nearly 735 K (462 °C), the atmospheric pressure is 90 times that of Earth, and the extreme impact of the greenhouse effect, make water-based life as we know it unlikely on the surface of the planet. However, a few scientists have speculated that thermoacidophilic extremophile microorganisms might exist in the lower-temperature, acidic upper layers of the Venusian atmosphere.
Since the late 1950s, increasingly clear evidence from various space probes showed Venus has an extreme climate, with a greenhouse effect generating a constant temperature of about 500 °C on the surface. The atmosphere contains sulfuric acid clouds and the atmospheric pressure at the surface is 90 bar, almost 100 times that of Earth and similar to that of more than 1,000 m (3,300 ft) deep in Earth's oceans. In such environment, and given the increasingly hostile characteristics of the Venusian weather, the chances of life as we know it are excluded from the surface of Venus. However, there are still some opinions in favor of such a possibility in the atmosphere.
In September 1967, Carl Sagan and Harold Morowitz published an analysis of the issue of life on Venus to the journal Nature.
In the analysis of mission data from the Venera, Pioneer Venus and Magellan missions, it was discovered that carbonyl sulfide, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide were present together in the upper atmosphere. Venera also detected large amounts of toxic chlorine just below the Venusian cloud cover. Carbonyl sulfide is difficult to produce inorganically, but it can be produced by volcanism. Sulfuric acid is produced in the upper atmosphere by the Sun's photochemical action on carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and water vapour.
Solar radiation constrains the atmospheric habitable zone to between 51 km (65 °C) and 62 km (−20 °C) altitude, within the acidic clouds. It has been speculated that clouds in the atmosphere of Venus could contain chemicals that can initiate forms of biological activity. It has been speculated that any hypothetical microorganisms inhabiting the atmosphere, if present, could employ ultraviolet light (UV) emitted by the Sun as an energy source, which could be an explanation for the dark lines observed in the UV photographs of Venus.
It is also possible that life existed on Venus but not anymore. Assuming the process that delivered water to Earth was common to all the planets near the habitable zone, it has been estimated that liquid water could have existed on its surface for up to 600 million years during and shortly after the Late Heavy Bombardment, which could be enough time for simple life to form, but this figure can vary from as little as a few million years to as much as few billion. This might also have given enough time for microbial life to evolve to be aerial. There has been very little analysis of Venusian surface material, so it is possible that evidence of past life, if it ever existed, could be easy to find with a probe capable of surviving Venus's current atmospheric conditions.
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