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habitable Venus

Venus might be habitable today, if not for Jupiter – Phys.org

Venus might be habitable today, if not for Jupiter
Composite of images taken by Japanese spacecraft Akatsuki of Venus. Credit: JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Venus might not be a sweltering, waterless hellscape today, if Jupiter hadn’t altered its orbit around the sun, according to new UC Riverside research.

Jupiter has a mass that is two-and-a-half times that of all other planets in our solar system—combined. Because it is comparatively gigantic, it has the ability to disturb other planets’ orbits.

Early in Jupiter’s formation as a planet, it moved closer to and then away from the sun due to interactions with the disc from which planets form as well as the other . This movement in turn affected Venus.

Observations of other planetary systems have shown that similar giant planet migrations soon after formation may be a relatively common occurrence. These are among the findings of a new study published in the Planetary Science Journal.

Scientists consider planets lacking liquid water to be incapable of hosting life as we know it. Though Venus may have lost some water early on for other reasons, and may have continued to do so anyway, UCR astrobiologist Stephen Kane said that Jupiter’s movement likely triggered Venus onto a path toward its current, inhospitable state.

“One of the interesting things about the Venus of today is that its orbit is almost perfectly circular,” said Kane, who led the study. “With this project, I wanted to explore whether the orbit has always been circular and if not, what are the implications of that?”

To answer these questions, Kane created a model that simulated the solar system, calculating the location of all the at any one time and how they pull one another in different directions.

Venus might be habitable today, if not for Jupiter
Animation depicts eccentricities of the inner planet orbits, and illustrates how circular the orbit of Venus is. Credit: ChongChong He

Scientists measure how noncircular a planet’s orbit is between 0, which is completely circular, and 1, which is not circular at all. The number between 0 and 1 is called the eccentricity of the orbit. An orbit with an eccentricity of 1 would not even complete an orbit around a star; it would simply launch into space, Kane said.

Currently, the of Venus is measured at 0.006, which is the most circular of any planet in our solar system. However, Kane’s model shows that when Jupiter was likely closer to the sun about a billion years ago, Venus likely had an eccentricity of 0.3, and there is a much higher probability that it was habitable then.

“As Jupiter migrated, Venus would have gone through dramatic changes in climate, heating up then cooling off and increasingly losing its water into the atmosphere,” Kane said.

Recently, scientists generated much excitement by discovering a gas in the clouds above Venus that may indicate the presence of life. The gas, phosphine, is typically produced by microbes, and Kane says it is possible that the gas represents “the last surviving species on a planet that went through a in its environment.”

For that to be the case, however, Kane notes the microbes would have had to sustain their presence in the sulfuric acid clouds above Venus for roughly a billion years since Venus last had surface —a difficult to imagine though not impossible scenario.

“There are probably a lot of other processes that could produce the gas that haven’t yet been explored,” Kane said.

Ultimately, Kane says it is important to understand what happened to Venus, a planet that was once likely habitable and now has of up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

“I focus on the differences between Venus and Earth, and what went wrong for Venus, so we can gain insight into how the Earth is habitable, and what we can do to shepherd this planet as best we can,” Kane said.



More information:
Stephen R. Kane et al, Could the Migration of Jupiter Have Accelerated the Atmospheric Evolution of Venus?, The Planetary Science Journal (2020). DOI: 10.3847/PSJ/abae63

Citation:
Venus might be habitable today, if not for Jupiter (2020, September 30)
retrieved 1 October 2020
from https://phys.org/news/2020-09-venus-habitable-today-jupiter.html

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Russian Venus

Venus is a ‘Russian planet,’ Kremlin top scientist claims – Fox News

Just days after scientists said they discovered the presence of phosphine in the clouds of Venus, the head of Russia’s space agency declared “Earth’s evil twin” a “Russian planet.”

Dmitry Rogozin, the director general of Russian space agency Roscosmos, said the second planet from the sun is a “Russian planet” as the former Soviet Union landed a probe on Venus decades ago.

“Our country [the Soviet Union] was the first and only one to successfully land on Venus,” Rogozin said in an interview with The Times. “The spacecraft gathered information about the planet — it is like hell over there.”

This May 2src16 photo provided by researcher Jane Greaves shows the planet Venus, seen from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Akatsuki probe. A report released on Monday, Sept. 14, 2src2src says astronomers have found a potential signal of life high in the atmosphere of our nearest neighboring planet. (J. Greaves/Cardiff University/JAXA via AP)

This May 2016 photo provided by researcher Jane Greaves shows the planet Venus, seen from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Akatsuki probe. A report released on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020 says astronomers have found a potential signal of life high in the atmosphere of our nearest neighboring planet. (J. Greaves/Cardiff University/JAXA via AP)

NASA CHIEF SAYS VENUS IS ‘ONE STOP IN OUR SEARCH FOR LIFE’

“We believe that Venus is a Russian planet,” he added.

The Soviet-era Venera program was designed to learn more about the planet Venus, which some researchers believe was habitable in its distant past. The Venera program, which lasted between 1961 and 1984, saw a number of achievements, including a soft landing on the planet on Dec. 15, 1970 (Venera 7), the first of its kind.

The comments from Rogozin come just days after NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the planet is “one stop in our search for life.”

“Today, we are on the cusp of amazing discoveries that could tell us more about the possibility of life off the Earth,” Bridenstine said in a statement issued last week.

Venus has been called Earth's

Venus has been called Earth’s “evil twin.”
(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

Last week, new research from an international team of astronomers revealed the discovery of a rare molecule, phosphine, in the clouds of Venus. The scientists noted that, on Earth, the gas is only made industrially or by microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments.

VENUS SHOWS SIGNS OF POTENTIAL ALIEN LIFE IN ITS CLOUDS, SCIENTISTS FIND

The research, led by Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in the U.K., was announced by the Royal Astronomical Society and published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

In addition, Bridenstine revealed the space agency is considering two of the four Discovery missions that will be selected next year that are proposed missions to Venus.

“One is focused on understanding its atmosphere and the other is focused on understanding Venus’ geological history,” Bridenstine added.

NASA is also partnering with Europe on another proposed Venus mission called EnVision, according to Bridenstine.

Fox News has reached out to Roscosmos and NASA with a request for comment.

VENUS WAS MADE OF LAVA AND WAS NOT ‘EARTH-LIKE’ AFTER ALL, STUNNING STUDY SAYS

Venus, which has been called “Earth’s evil twin,” has an extremely harsh climate, with a surface temperature of 864 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s likely too hot to support life, but NASA has recently said that it intends to explore the planet. In July, researchers revealed that Venus has nearly 40 active volcanoes on its surface.

Separately in July, a number of researchers argued that going to the second planet in the Solar System could have benefits for a manned mission to Mars.

In late 2019, NASA said it was working on a stingray-like spacecraft to explore the planet, which has more volcanoes than any other celestial body in the Solar System.

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Fox News’ James Rogers contributed to this story.

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Cloudy Venus

On Venus, Cloudy With a Chance of Microbial Life – The New York Times

Out There

Astrobiologists shift their gaze, and speculations, to Earth’s broiling sister planet.

Credit…JPL/NASA

Dennis Overbye

It’s been a while — like, forever — since anyone claimed to have discovered life on Venus.

And truth be told, the scientists who announced on Sept. 14 the discovery of phosphine, a gas, in Venus’s atmosphere did not claim to have discovered life, either — only that they could not think of anything that might have produced it other than microbes in the clouds. “We’re not saying we discovered life on Venus,” Sara Seager of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in an interview a few days before the announcement.

On Earth, anyway, the only natural source of phosphine is microbes; the gas is often associated with feces. But it would hardly rank as a surprise to find out that scientists don’t know everything there is to know yet about the geochemistry of Venus, our nearest but rarely visited neighbor in the solar system.

Nor would it be the first time that the search for life on another planet has foundered on ignorance of the local chemistry. Experts still argue whether some experiments on the Viking landers in 1977 detected signs of life on Mars, but the main lesson from that adventure was that scientists had tried to run on Mars before learning to walk there: They went looking for Martian biology before they had mastered Martian chemistry.

One of the strengths of science is that interpretations can turn on a dime with the addition of more data. In the case of Venus, opinion has turned and turned again.

In the mythology that served as the narrative backbone of classic science fiction, Venus was often portrayed as a cloudy, swampy rain forest kind of planet — a water world, a plantation world, humid but habitable, in some accounts even inhabited by docile natives. Mars was a dying, desert civilization — a vision promoted in the early 20th century by the Bostonian philanthropist Percival Lowell, who thought he could see canals on Mars.

That was long before either place was actually visited and their inhospitable natures revealed: Venus with its crushing carbon dioxide atmosphere, surface temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit and sulfuric acid clouds; Mars with its frozen wisp of an atmosphere. Both of them bone dry, at least on their surfaces.

Venus is the brightest object that most people will see in the sky, after the sun, the moon and the infrequent supernova. It is also the celestial object most likely to be mistaken for a U.F.O.

Venus had another pop culture moment in the 1940s. An all-purpose scholar and psychoanalyst named Immanuel Velikovsky, inspired by biblical accounts of such events as the sun standing still in the heavens, proposed that Venus had been spit from Jupiter 3,500 years ago and had careered through the solar system, sideswiping Earth and dosing it with plague viruses from its comet tail, then collided with Mars before settling into its present orbit. Never mind the laws of celestial mechanics.

The publication in 1950 of Velikovsky’s “Worlds in Collision,” a best seller, scandalized astronomers. As it turned out, Velikovsky’s theory made two correct predictions for all the wrong reasons: that Jupiter is a source of radio noise, and that Venus is hot.

By then, the founders of what would be the American space program had already set their minds and hearts on Mars as the likely abode of life, and the ultimate destination. In 1954, Werner von Braun published a long article in Colliers magazine that was a blueprint for a human expedition to the Red Planet. In a particularly perceptive aside, he anticipated that a century would pass before this happened; lately NASA has been discussing the 2030s as a realistic time frame for such a trip.

Carl Sagan, then a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, provided an accurate explanation for Venus’s torrid temperature, in his 1960 Ph.D. thesis. The planet’s crushing carbon dioxide atmosphere had created a runaway greenhouse effect, he concluded. Venus was a lifeless desert, at least on the ground.

Sagan, who died in 1996, was always optimistic about the prospects for life in the universe, championing the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. In 1967, he and Harold Morowitz, a biochemist at Yale, pointed out that conditions in the clouds of Venus seemed more hospitable, with pressures of just one atmosphere and temperatures of about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on where in the clouds you go, conducive to life.

“If small amounts of minerals are stirred up to the clouds from the surface, it is by no means difficult to imagine an indigenous biology in the clouds of Venus,” they wrote in a paper in Nature.

The notion was not particularly popular. “The idea encountered much resistance and some ridicule back then,” said David Grinspoon, a planetary scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., who has championed the idea for more than 30 years.

Image

Credit…Peter Komka/EPA, via Shutterstock

Dr. Grinspoon recalled that when he included a chapter on the plausibility of cloud-based life in his 1997 book, “Venus Revealed,” his publisher pressed him to take it out, contending that such an outlandish notion would tarnish the book. The chapter stayed.

In recent years the discovery of extremophiles, bacteria that live in nuclear reactors, hot ocean vents and other unlikely places, and of exoplanets has spurred new work and ideas about habitable planets. If Mars can have microfossils, why not Venus?

Moreover, Dr. Grinspoon said, new studies of Venus have led to the conclusion that the planet might have lost its oceans rather recently, only 700 million years ago, allowing plenty of time since the formation of the planet for life to have evolved and then escaped to the clouds.

What kind of life would that be? In 2004, Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an astronomer at the Technical University Berlin, in Germany, and his colleagues suggested that microbes floating in the clouds could be coated with a compound called cyclooctasulfur that would act as a sunscreen and convert ultraviolet light into visible wavelengths for photosynthesis.

Earlier this year, Dr. Seager and her colleagues expanded on this idea and sketched out an entire possible life cycle for such organisms. The microbes could inhabit droplets of sulfuric acid in the clouds, they proposed; as the droplets collided and merged, more and more microbes would be enclosed together, metabolize and divide.

Eventually the drops would grow too heavy and rain down from the clouds, but they would evaporate before hitting the ground, causing the microbes to dry out and go dormant.

Dr. Seager noted that Venus is known to have a layer of haze. “It’s very stable, and people don’t know what the particles there are, but they remain suspended for a very long time,” she said. “So I postulated that some of those particles, not all of them, but some of those particles might actually be dried-out life — spores.”

These spores would be light enough to drift back up to the clouds on currents called gravity waves, where they would serve as seeds for new droplets to condense around, restarting the whole cycle.

Dr. Seager pointed out that microbes also exist in Earth’s atmosphere, they just don’t stay aloft as long.

“Well, I definitely would not say there’s life on Venus with certainty,” Dr. Seager emphasized. Among other things, she said, biologists still do not know which intestinal microbes produce phosphine or how they do it.

And what sort of life could endure the kinds of conditions in a sulfur cloud? Probably not the DNA-based organisms that we are, Dr. Seager said.

If it were discovered that nature has an alternative way to produce life, that would be the signal event of 21st-century science. And so the race for new data is on. NASA and other space agencies are considering sending new probes to our long-overlooked twin planet. Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Foundation, known for its $3 million prizes to scientists, has already said that it will finance research into Venusian life.

If you listen carefully, you can hear a new solar system mythology being born. In this narrative, life emerged on Earth, Venus and Mars back when all three worlds were flush with water. When Mars dried out and froze, the microbes went underground, where they wait to be found by our robot rovers. On Venus they took to the air.

On Earth we occupy a plush, naïve middle ground. Walk through the woods on a summer night and the wall of sound from invisible creatures, crickets and peepers, the white noise of life, is overwhelming.

We know how it will end. In a half-billion years or so, as the sun evolves and brightens, Earth will lose its oceans and go the greenhouse way of Venus. But perhaps life in some form will persist even then. That’s quite a lot to hope for, but a little hope is what we need these days.

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Russian Venus

Venus is a Russian planet — say the Russians – CNN

(CNN)No longer confined to territories here on Earth, Russia has now staked its claim on Venus, saying it is a “Russian planet.”

This week, Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space corporation Roscosmos, revealed that the country plans to send its own mission to Venus in addition to “Venera-D,” the planned joint mission with the US, the Russian state news agency TASS reported.
Rogozin was addressing reporters at the HeliRussia 2020 exhibition, an international expo of the helicopter industry in Moscow.
“Resuming Venus exploration is on our agenda,” he told reporters Tuesday.
“We think that Venus is a Russian planet, so we shouldn’t lag behind,” he said.
“Projects of Venus missions are included in the united government program of Russia’s space exploration for 2021-2030.”
The statement came the day after scientists revealed that a gas on Earth called phosphine had also been detected in the atmosphere of Venus.
Venus is similar in size to Earth and is our closest planetary neighbor, but it spins backward compared to other planets.
The study authored by Cardiff University professor Jane Greaves and her colleagues was published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.
The discovery of phosphine on Venus elevates it to an area of interest worth exploring in our solar system alongside the ranks of Mars and “water world” moons like Enceladus and Europa, Seager said.
“Our hoped-for impact in the planetary science community is to stimulate more research on Venus itself, research on the possibilities of life in Venus’ atmosphere, and even space missions focused to find signs of life or even life itself in the Venusian atmosphere,” Seager said.
According to the European Space Agency, the Russians do have significant experience when it comes to Venus.
Its website states: “Between 1967-1984 Venusian studies carried out in Russia were at the forefront of international research into this planet.
“Since then, Russia has still preserved its unique expertise in designing and developing landing craft for Venus and continues to define scientific tasks for those craft.”

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Rocket Venus

Life on Venus: Rocket Lab CEO shares why we need to go “soon” – Inverse

Venus, a planet close to Earth with an inferno of hot gases, could be host to a possible sign of life. The recent discovery has got some of the most important figures in private spaceflight excited.

In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists announced they detected traces of phosphine gas in the Venus atmosphere. The gas is normally associated with life on Earth. But at nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the surface of Venus isn’t exactly hospitable to life in the form we’re used to – and the team can’t explain how the gas got there. Lead author Jane Greaves described the discovery as “very unexpected and very exciting.”

For Peter Beck, CEO of private spaceflight firm Rocket Lab, the discovery reaffirmed his focus on Venus as a destination. While SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has outlined a plan to build a city on Mars, and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos wants to build floating space cities, Beck has instead zeroed in on planning a trip to Venus.

“Today’s research highlights why we need to go, and soon,” Beck tells Inverse.

Private interest in Venus — Breakthrough Initiatives also announced intent to look into Venus further. On Tuesday, the private space science organization, funded by Russian investor Yuri Milner, announced plans to fund a research study into the possibility of life on the planet.

In a statement on the initiative’s website, Milner stressed the importance of exploring the discovery:

“Finding life anywhere beyond Earth would be truly momentous. And if there’s a non-negligible chance that it’s right next door on Venus, exploring that possibility is an urgent priority for our civilization.”

Meanwhile, Beck has spoken before about his passion for Venus. In August 2020, he said during a livestream that he’s “madly in love with Venus,” with plans to host a private mission to the planet in 2023. The mission would target aerial environments around 30 miles above the surface, where conditions are closer to those found on Earth.

Peter Beck.Kimberly White/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

“I’ve always had a passion for Venus,” Beck tells Inverse.

“It has long been hypothesized that its atmosphere could potentially support some kind of life, and I’ve always been eager to send a probe to find out. More than just the search for life though, Venus is a pretty good Earth analog for runaway climate change, so I believe there’s a lot we can learn from Venus’ past and apply to Earth’s future.”

Venus has attracted the attention of fans interested in the emergent new space race, a race with a more prominent role for private firms. A map shared on Reddit last month showed what the planet would look like if its surface was covered in a similar amount of water to Earth. The map followed on from a previous map that applied the same treatment to Mars. Both planets have been the subject of discussion around terraforming, a human-powered transformation of the atmosphere and surface.

For now, the only Earthly visitor near Venus is Akatsuki, a Japanese space probe. It’s contributed to the study of the planet’s gravity waves, equatorial jet streams, and the physics of its clouds.

While Rocket Lab is one of the key firms in this new space race, Beck’s focus for Venus is the Photon spacecraft. The company’s satellite designs support launches to a variety of altitudes.

“About a year ago when work began in earnest on our mission to lunar orbit for NASA, we set out to design a Photon spacecraft capable of a mission to the moon, but also to Venus,” Beck says. “Development of that spacecraft and mission is now well underway. The first mission to Venus will be a private one with an atmospheric probe to take a closer look at the potential for life, but it won’t be the only mission to Venus.”

Read the abstract of Monday’s paper below:

Measurements of trace gases in planetary atmospheres help us explore chemical conditions different to those on Earth. Our nearest neighbour, Venus, has cloud decks that are temperate but hyperacidic. Here we report the apparent presence of phosphine (PH3) gas in Venus’s atmosphere, where any phosphorus should be in oxidized forms. Single-line millimetre-waveband spectral detections (quality up to ~15σ) from the JCMT and ALMA telescopes have no other plausible identification. Atmospheric PH3 at ~20 ppb abundance is inferred. The presence of PH3 is unexplained after exhaustive study of steady-state chemistry and photochemical pathways, with no currently known abiotic production routes in Venus’s atmosphere, clouds, surface and subsurface, or from lightning, volcanic or meteoritic delivery. PH3 could originate from unknown photochemistry or geochemistry, or, by analogy with biological production of PH3 on Earth, from the presence of life. Other PH3 spectral features should be sought, while in situ cloud and surface sampling could examine sources of this gas.

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Astronomers Venus

Life on Venus? Astronomers See Phosphine Signal in Its Clouds – The New York Times

The detection of a gas in the planet’s atmosphere could turn scientists’ gaze to a planet long overlooked in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Credit…PLANET-C Project Team/JAXA

High in the toxic atmosphere of the planet Venus, astronomers on Earth have discovered signs of what might be life.

If the discovery is confirmed by additional telescope observations and future space missions, it could turn the gaze of scientists toward one of the brightest objects in the night sky. Venus, named after the Roman goddess of beauty, roasts at temperatures of hundreds of degrees and is cloaked by clouds that contain droplets of corrosive sulfuric acid. Few have focused on the rocky planet as a habitat for something living.

Instead, for decades, scientists have sought signs of life elsewhere, usually peering outward to Mars and more recently at Europa, Enceladus and other icy moons of the giant planets.

The astronomers, who reported the finding on Monday in a pair of papers, have not collected specimens of Venusian microbes, nor have they snapped any pictures of them. But with powerful telescopes, they have detected a chemical — phosphine — in the thick Venus atmosphere. After much analysis, the scientists assert that something now alive is the only explanation for the chemical’s source.

Some researchers question this hypothesis, and they suggest instead that the gas could result from unexplained atmospheric or geologic processes on a planet that remains mysterious. But the finding will also encourage some planetary scientists to ask whether humanity has overlooked a planet that may have once been more Earthlike than any other world in our solar system.

“This is an astonishing and ‘out of the blue’ finding,” said Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an author of the papers (one published in Nature Astronomy and another submitted to the journal Astrobiology). “It will definitely fuel more research into the possibilities for life in Venus’s atmosphere.”

She added: “Venus has been ignored by NASA for so long. It’s really a shame.”

David Grinspoon of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., who was not part of the work but has long promoted the possibility of life in Venus’s clouds, said, “That is pretty damn exciting!”

The work needs to be followed up, he said, “but this could be the first observation we’ve made which reveals an alien biosphere and, what do you know, it’s on the closest planet to home in the entire cosmos.”

Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of NASA, responded to the finding on Twitter, saying, “ It’s time to prioritize Venus.”

Venus is one of the most beautiful objects in Earth’s sky. But at a closer glance, the less lovely it becomes.

Often called Earth’s twin, Venus is roughly the same mass as Earth. Many scientists think that Venus was once covered in water and possessed an atmosphere where life as we know it could have flourished.

In earlier days of the solar system, Earth was not so hospitable to the likes of us. There was life here then, even an entire biosphere that did not survive in the oxygen-rich environment that later developed. And much as Earth over time became a home for jellyfish, ferns, dinosaurs and Homo sapiens, Venus was transformed by something into a hell.

Today, the second planet from the sun has an atmosphere stifled by carbon dioxide gas, and surface temperatures that average more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The dense atmosphere of Venus exerts a pressure of more than 1,300 pounds per square inch on anything at the surface. That is more than 90 times the 14.7 pounds per square inch at sea level on Earth, or the equivalent to being 3,000 feet underwater in the ocean.

It is hardly a place that makes visiting or research easy, although that doesn’t mean people haven’t tried. Space programs have tried dozens of robotic missions to Venus, many of them in the Soviet Union’s Venera series. But the planet eats metal, within minutes melting down and crushing spacecraft that have landed there. Of all those attempts, only two managed to directly capture images of the planet’s surface.

Whereas frigid Mars is currently ringed by orbiters and prowled by NASA rovers, Venus is being studied by only one probe, the lonely Japanese spacecraft Akatsuki. Future missions to the planet are still mere concepts.

Although the surface of Venus is like a blast furnace, a cloud layer just 31 miles below the top of its atmosphere may reach temperatures as low as 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and has a pressure similar to that at ground level on Earth. Many planetary scientists, including Carl Sagan and Harold Morowitz, who proposed the idea 53 years ago, have hypothesized life may exist there.

Image

Credit…ARC/NASA

Jane Greaves, an astronomer at Cardiff University in Wales, set out in June 2017 to test that hypothesis using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, looking for signs of various molecules on Venus. Different species of molecules will absorb radio waves coming through the clouds at different characteristic wavelengths. One of the chemicals was phosphine. She did not expect to find it.

“I got intrigued by the idea of looking for phosphine, because phosphorus might be a bit of a sort of go-no-go for life,” Dr. Greaves said.

Chemists compare phosphine to a pyramid — one atom of phosphorus topping a base of three hydrogen atoms. The NASA spacecraft Cassini detected it in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn. In that setting, Dr. Sousa-Silva said, life is not necessary to form phosphine. The immense heat and pressures can jam the phosphrous and hydrogen atoms together to form the molecule.

Phosphorus

Hydrogen

Phosphorus

Hydrogen

Phosphorus

Hydrogen

But on smaller, rocky planets like Earth and Venus, the researchers say, there is not enough energy to produce copious amounts of phosphine in the same way. There is one thing, however, that appears to be very good at producing it: anaerobic life, or microbial organisms that don’t require or use oxygen.

On such worlds, “as far as we can tell, only life can make phosphine,” Dr. Sousa-Silva said. She has long studied the gas, on the theory that finding it being emitted from rocky planets that orbit distant stars could be proof that life exists elsewhere in the Milky Way.

Here on Earth, phosphine is found in our intestines, in the feces of badgers and penguins, and in some deep sea worms, as well as other biological environments associated with anaerobic organisms. It is also extremely poisonous. Militaries have employed it for chemical warfare, and it is used as a fumigant on farms. On the TV show “Breaking Bad,” the main character, Walter White, makes it to kill two rivals.

But scientists have yet to explain how Earth microbes make it.

“There’s not a lot of understanding of where it’s coming from, how it forms, things like that,” said Matthew Pasek, a geoscientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “We’ve seen it associated with where microbes are at, but we have not seen a microbe do it, which is a subtle difference, but an important one.”

Dr. Sousa-Silva was surprised when Dr. Greaves said that she had detected phosphine.

“That moment plays in my mind a lot, because I took a few minutes to consider what was happening,” she said.

If there really was phosphine on Venus, she believed there could be no other obvious explanation than anaerobic life.

“What we find circumstantially also makes complete sense with what we know thermodynamically,” she said.

The team needed a more powerful telescope, and the scientists next used the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, in Chile, in March 2019.

This time, they found, all signs pointed to phosphine, and a lot of it, ranging from 5 to 20 parts per billion. Although those numbers might seem small, that’s thousands of times more than what is in Earth’s atmosphere.

Dr. Sousa-Silva, Dr. Greaves and their colleagues had planned to complete additional telescope observations earlier this year. But the coronavirus pandemic and Venus’s limited time above the horizon interfered with their ability to gather more evidence, leaving many questions unanswered.

“The finding itself is astonishing,” said Paul Byrne, a planetary scientist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh who was not involved in the research. He said that although he was “skeptical of it being life, I don’t have a better explanation for what it is.”

The team spent a year recreating the Venusian environment in computer simulations to test different explanations for the phosphine’s source and abundance.

“The light is constantly breaking the phosphine down, so you have to continuously replenish it,” said William Bains, a biochemist at M.I.T. and one of the co-authors of the papers.

Volcanic activity and lightning on Venus would not be sufficient to add more of this constantly disappearing phosphine, according to the researchers’ models. But living things could emit enough of the gas.

“What we’ve done is rule out all other sources of phosphine other than life,” Dr. Bains said.

Other planetary scientists counter that a non-biological origin cannot be ruled out.

“Despite prior speculation (mostly by the same authors), this can hardly be taken as a biosignature,” Gerald Joyce, a biologist at the Salk Institute in California who has experimented with creating life in the lab, said in an email. In their own paper, he noted, the researchers wrote that “the detection of phosphine is not robust evidence for life, only for anomalous and unexplained chemistry.”

A similar note of caution was voiced by James Kasting, a geoscientist and expert on planetary habitability at Pennsylvania State University in State College, who said, “The model atmospheric composition that they show is, at best, incomplete.”

Image

Credit…Rick Guidice/ARC/NASA

The finding also follows a history of detections of gases on other worlds that can be byproducts of life. But these gases, such as burps of methane or oxygen on Mars, can also be produced by chemical reactions that do not involve life at all. So far, such signals have been intriguing, but they are not convincing proof of aliens.

While few doubt whether this phosphine is there, what kind of life in the clouds of Venus would it take to actually make the gas?

Such living things would have had to evolve to survive in a high-acid environment, perhaps with protective outer layers similar to microscopic organisms in Earth’s most extreme environments.

In a paper published in August, Dr. Seager and her colleagues suggested that microbes borne aloft on air currents called gravity waves could live, metabolize and reproduce inside droplets of sulfuric acid and water. And given the amount of gas being produced, the population of these microbes would be ample.

As to how these microbes got there, the best guess, she said, is that they originated on the surface when Venus had oceans as late as 700 million years ago, but they were forced into the skies when the planet dried up.

And nobody knows whether the microbes, if real, are based on DNA like us, or something entirely different.

“When looking for life elsewhere, it’s so hard to not be Earth-centric,” Dr. Sousa-Silva said. “Because we only have that one data point.”

Before their imaginations run away, the researchers want to gather more telescope data and see their models tested and challenged. Robotic space missions to Venus could also advance the search.

India’s space agency has proposed a mission, in the coming years, as has a private rocket company, Rocket Lab.

And NASA, which has declined to fund a number of Venus missions in recent decades, announced in February that it would consider a pair of proposed spacecraft among four finalists competing for a round of funding.

“For the last two decades, we keep making new discoveries that collectively imply a significant increase of the likelihood to find life elsewhere,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of NASA’s science directorate, who helps select missions to explore the solar system. “Many scientists would not have guessed that Venus would be a significant part of this discussion. But, just like an increasing number of planetary bodies, Venus is proving to be an exciting place of discovery.”

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Hellscape Venus

Venus Is Even More of a Hellscape Than We Imagined – Yahoo! Voices

  • Venus may be dotted with active volcanoes, new research claims.
  • Planetary scientists used old Venus mission data to create a series of computer simulations of Venetian volcanoes.
  • NASA is already pondering new missions to Venus; these findings could inspire Venus fever.

    Venus is a strange, enchanting place. The rocky planet is often referred to as Earth’s twin, because they’re about the same size and have roughly the same mass. But there are some remarkable differences.

    For starters, Venus is choked with a toxic atmosphere. Its surface can reach temperatures of up to 880 degrees Fahrenheit. And because it doesn’t have plate tectonics like Earth does, scientists have long wondered whether the planet was geologically active at all.

    But now, astronomers have spotted strange, ring-like features on Venus’s surface—dubbed “coronae” after the the Latin word for crown—which indicates the planet could be more active than previously thought.

    🌌 You love our insanely weird galaxy. So do we. Let’s make this thing official.

    “People have suggested that Venus is volcanically active before,” Anna Gülcher of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, told New Scientist. “What we have done that is new is to map out these regions and correlate them to these specific sites.”

    The scientists created a series of computer simulations that mapped out exactly how Venusian volcanoes would work, and what they might look like. They compared the data from these simulations to data collected during the European Space Agency’s Venus Express mission and NASA’s Magellan mission.

    The imagery collected during these missions featured several sites that matched what the computer simulations showed. In total, the scientists identified 37 potentially active volcanic edifices in the Magellan data, collected between 1990 and 1994. Many were located around Venus’s equator, which suggests the planet could have its very own “Ring of Fire” and a toasty, warm interior. The team’s findings appear in the journal Nature Geoscience.

    The researchers suspect these strange features form similarly to some of the volcanoes found here on Earth. Molten magma likely creeps up from planet’s warm mantle, kind of like hotspot volcanoes that pop up in places like Hawaii and Yellowstone. And these things are massive; the average size of each corona is approximately 186 miles wide. That’s more than twice the size of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on Earth.

    There’s a lot the team still doesn’t know—like how recently the volcanic coronae have been active. “It could be today or a couple million years ago,” coauthor and geologist Laurent G.J. Montesi, of the University of Maryland at College Park, told CNN. The best way to answer these pressing questions and find out exactly what’s happening on Venus’s surface is to send a spacecraft there.

    So it’s a good thing that back in February, NASA announced it had selected four possible Discovery missions to explore the distant reaches of the solar system. Two of them, the DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus) and VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy), are designed to study Venus. If these missions are selected, they could help shed light on the planet’s curious coronae.

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    Active Venus

    Active Venus volcanoes make super hot planet even more unwelcoming – CNET

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    Maat Mons on the surface of Venus could be an active volcano.


    NASA/JPL-Caltech

    We’ve known for some time now that our neighbor Venus is hell off-Earth, but new research suggests it’s even worse than we thought. 

    In addition to its toxic atmosphere and lead-melting (literally) temperatures, the second planet from the sun looks to be home to at least a few dozen active volcanoes belching up brimstone to add to the ambience. 

    “This is the first time we are able to point to specific structures and say, ‘Look, this is not an ancient volcano but one that is active today, dormant perhaps, but not dead,'” said Laurent Montési, geology professor at the University of Maryland, in a release. “This study significantly changes the view of Venus from a mostly inactive planet to one whose interior is still churning and can feed many active volcanoes.”

    From the cosmos to your inbox. Get the latest space stories from CNET every week.

    Montési is co-author of a new paper published Monday in Nature Geoscience identifying 37 “recently active volcanic structures” on Venus.

    Perhaps ironically, geologically-active planets with hot interiors tend to be better candidates for habitability, because a molten core can also power a magnetic field to deflect sterilizing radiation from the sun and space. 

    Venus, being the forsaken place it is, is the rare active planet that doesn’t generate its own magnetic field internally. This planet is really about as inviting as a mouthful of razor wire.

    Scientists have known there is evidence of volcanic activity on Venus for a while, but it was thought it was probably the remnants of ancient activity. 


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    Montési and colleagues used 3D models of Venusian sub-surface activity to look at the features on the surface of the planet in a new way, helping them to identify potentially active hotspots. 

    The team hopes future missions to Venus could get a better look at its eruptive nature. It may be a while, though, as many space programs are aiming for Mars right now

    However, the BepiColombo spacecraft bound for Mercury will make a pair of flybys past Venus over the next 13 months. So maybe we’ll get more familiar with the worst place in the solar system soon enough.

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    Earth Venus

    See Earth and Venus from Mars in amazing photos from NASA’s Curiosity rover – Space.com

    NASA’s Curiosity rover took a break from assessing ancient Martian habitability to gaze up at the Red Planet sky — where it found Earth.

    Through the dusty Martian atmosphere, the car-size rover spotted its home planet and Venus about 75 minutes after local sunset on June 5, 2020, the 2,784th sol (Martian day) of Curiosity’s mission. (The rover landed on Aug. 5, 2012.)

    “A two-image twilight panorama reveals Earth in one frame and Venus in the other,” officials at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which manages Curiosity’s mission, said in a statement. “Both planets appear as mere pinpoints of light, owing to a combination of distance and dust in the air. They would normally look like very bright stars.”

    Related: Amazing Mars photos by NASA’s Curiosity rover (latest images) 

    Two images of the night sky were combined to show Earth and Venus as seen by the Mast Camera aboard NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on June 5, 2src2src, the 2,784th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Both planets appear as mere pinpoints of light owing to a combination of distance and dust in the air; they would normally look like bright stars. A feature called Tower Butte is just visible at the bottom of the image, part of the clay-bearing region that Curiosity has been exploring since early 2src19.

    Two images of the night sky were combined to show Earth and Venus as seen by the Mast Camera aboard NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on June 5, 2020, the 2,784th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Both planets appear as mere pinpoints of light owing to a combination of distance and dust in the air; they would normally look like bright stars.  A feature called Tower Butte is just visible at the bottom of the image, part of the clay-bearing region that Curiosity has been exploring since early 2019. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    To capture the new images, Curiosity used the same instrument it commonly employs to take Martian panoramas, the Mast Camera or Mastcam. And planet-spotting wasn’t the only goal of this skywatching session: mission team members also wanted to look at the Martian twilight brightness. 

    On Mars, the planet’s southern hemisphere (where Curiosity is situated, slightly below the equator in a big crater named Gale) is in late spring. The Red Planet takes about 687 Earth days to circle the sun once; a typical day on Mars is about 37 minutes longer than on Earth.

    Two images of the night sky were combined to show Earth and Venus as seen by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on June 5, 2src2src, the mission's 2,784th Martian day, or sol. The planets appear as pinpoints of light owing to a combination of distance and dust in the air. Mars' Tower Butte is visible at bottom.

    Two images of the night sky were combined to show Earth and Venus as seen by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on June 5, 2020, the mission’s 2,784th Martian day, or sol. The planets appear as pinpoints of light owing to a combination of distance and dust in the air. Mars’ Tower Butte is visible at bottom. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    During the late Martian spring, there is quite a bit of dust suspended in the air. The particles reflect sunlight, brightening the atmosphere and making it harder to spot objects in the sky, said Mastcam co-investigator Mark Lemmon, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Colorado.

    “Even moderately bright stars were not visible when this image of Venus was taken,” Lemmon said in the same statement. “Earth also has bright twilights after some large volcanic eruptions.”

    Just visible at the bottom of the images is a rock feature nicknamed Tower Butte. Curiosity is slowly climbing the slopes of Mount Sharp (also known as Aeolis Mons), which rises from Gale’s center, on a quest to understand how water may have shaped habitable environments on Mars more generally. 

    NASA’s next Mars rover, Perseverance, is expected to touch down inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021, to probe ancient habitability in more detail and cache the most promising samples for a future Martian sample return mission. Perseverance’s launch window opens on July 20.

    Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

    Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

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