By Claire Gordon • 25 December 2021 • 18:30
Venus could be becoming “more habitable” after evidence of bacterial “lifeforms” were found in its clouds, scientists have said. New data from a group of researchers spanning Cardiff University, MIT and Cambridge University has suggested the planet could have ammonia in the mists that cover its entire surface. Ammonia is a colourless gas made up of nitrogen and hydrogen.
The scientists have modelled a set of chemical processes to show how a cascade of chemical reactions would neutralise surrounding droplets of sulfuric acid if there were any traces of ammonia. The acidity of the clouds would be reduced by this set of reactions from its current -11 to a more alkaline 0. While this is still incredibly acidic, it is a level that life could potentially survive at.
Co-author of the study Dr William Bains, from Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, spoke to Sky News and said: “We know that life can grow in acid environments on Earth, but nothing as acid as the clouds of Venus were believed to be. But if something is making ammonia in the clouds, then that will neutralise some of the droplets, making them potentially more habitable.”
The presence of ammonia on Venus has been studied since the 1970s and now there is a suggestion that any possible lifeforms in the clouds are likely to be microbes similar to bacteria found on Earth.
The scientists believe the origins of the ammonia are biological, instead of natural forces such as lightning or volcanic eruptions.
Professor Sara Seager, another co-author from MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), said: “Ammonia shouldn’t be on Venus.
“It has hydrogen attached to it, and there’s very little hydrogen around. Any gas that doesn’t belong in the context of its environment is automatically suspicious for being made by life.”
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