A new theory has been proposed by a team of researchers that suggests that Venusian life could be making the environment more welcoming.
Published in the journal Proceedings of National Academy of SciencesThe team of scientists from Cambridge University in England, MIT in Cambridge Mass. and Cardiff University in Wales suggested that potential life could be creating its own environment in the Venus clouds through a “cascade” of chemical reactions. This may help to explain other “strange anomalies,” which have puzzled scientists for decades.
One of those puzzles was the presence ammonia, which was “tentatively” discovered in the 1970s. The team claims that it shouldn’t have been produced by any chemical process on Venus, the second planet from Mercury and before Earth.
Simply put: According to the group: “Life could create its own environment on Venus.”
“We know life can grow in acid environments, but nothing as acidic as the clouds of Venus were thought to be,” William Bains of Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy said in a press release.
“But, if something is making ammonia, then that will neutralize some drops, making them potentially more habitable.”
Scientists have discovered that certain life forms can produce ammonia to neutralize acidic environments and make them livable.
Researchers developed a model to show that, if ammonia was present on Venus it would set off a series a chemical reactions, neutralizing surrounding sulfuric acid droplets.
The team states that the cloud pH, or the degree of acidity or basicity, would then rise from approximately -11 to 0. The researchers state that this would still be very acidic but within the range of acidity life could tolerate.
The team also tested whether dust could be sweeping the minerals into the clouds at Venus, causing them to react with the sulfuric acid.
It was decided that a lot of dust would be required, so the team looked into ammonia.
Researchers claim that if life produced ammonia, the chemical reactions would naturally give oxygen. This anomaly was identified as one on the planet.
Once ammonia has been in the clouds, it will dissolve in drops of sulfuric acid. This would effectively neutralize it and create a salt-like solution.
Researchers believe that ammonia is most likely to come from biological sources, rather than non-biological sources like lightning, volcanic eruptions, or even a meteor impact.
Sara Seager, co-author of the study, from MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, said that “Ammonia shouldn’t be on Venus.”
“It contains hydrogen attached to it, and there is very little hydrogen. Any gas that isn’t appropriate for its environment is suspicious and can be considered dangerous by life.
According to the group, a set of proposed missions, called Venus Life Finder Missions and led by Seager, could be used to verify the presence of ammonia or signs of life over the next few years.
Bains continues, “There are many challenges that life must overcome if it is not to live in Venus’s clouds.”
“There is almost zero water there for a beginning, and all life we know needs water. If there is life, then neutralizing acid will make the clouds a bit more habitable.