CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) â€” A new study is throwing cold water on the possibility of life in the clouds of Venus.
Scientists from Europe and the U.S. reported Monday there isnâ€™t nearly enough water vapor in the scorching planetâ€™s clouds to support life as we know it.
The team looked into the matter following Septemberâ€™s surprise announcement by others that strange, tiny organisms could be lurking in the thick, sulfuric acid-filled clouds of Venus. Through spacecraft observations, the latest research group found the water level is more than 100 times too low to support Earth-like life.
â€œItâ€™s almost at the bottom of the scale and an unbridgeable distance from what life requires to be active,â€ said the lead author, John Hallsworth, a microbiologist at Queenâ€™s University Belfast in Northern Ireland.
His team looked at the most dry-tolerant and also the most acid-tolerant microbes on Earth â€” and they â€œwouldnâ€™t stand a chance in Venus.â€
While the latest findings veto Venus at least for water-based organisms, they identify another planet â€” Jupiter â€” with enough water in the clouds and the right atmospheric temperatures to support life.
â€œNow Iâ€™m not suggesting thereâ€™s life on Jupiter and Iâ€™m not even suggesting life could be there because it would need the nutrients to be there and we canâ€™t be sure of that,â€ Hallsworth stressed to reporters. â€œBut still itâ€™s a profound and exciting finding and totally unexpected.â€
Further studies will be needed to ascertain whether microbial life might exist deep in the clouds of Jupiter, according to Hallsworth and NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay, a co-author on the research paper published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.
As for Venus, three new spacecraft will be headed there later this decade and early next â€” two by NASA and one by the European Space Agency. Hallsworth and and McKay donâ€™t expect their results to change regarding uninhabitable water activity at our solar systemâ€™s hottest planet.
â€œItâ€™s unfortunate because Iâ€™m very interested in searching for life on other worlds and I would love to think that Venus is habitable,â€ McKay said.
The scientists behind the September study possibly hinting at life in the Vesuvian clouds based their findings on the presence of the toxic gas phosphine. On Earth, itâ€™s associated with life. The researchers argued that Venusâ€™ phosphine levels are too high to be geologic in origin.
â€œWe are not trying to push Venus as a definitely habitable world. So far all conventional interpretations say Venus is inhabitable!â€ said Massachusetts Institute of Technology astrophysicist Sara Seager, part of the September team.
Regarding the latest study, â€œwe are tremendously enthusiastic about leaving no stone unturned, in case there is life on Venus,â€ she added in an email.
Thereâ€™s always the possibility that any life in Venusâ€™ clouds â€” if it exists â€” could be totally unlike anything on Earth and adapted to the hothouse planetâ€™s extremely hot and harsh conditions, according to scientists.
â€œIf there is life in the clouds of Venus, then this life has to be â€˜Life as we do not know it,â€™ said astrobiologist Janusz Petkowski, a colleague of Seagerâ€™s at MIT. â€œThe question is how different that life can be?â€
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Instituteâ€™s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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