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Venus too dry to support life, says study

Published: 2nd Jul 2021 11:24 pm

Hyderabad: The amount of water in the atmosphere of Venus is so low that even the most drought-tolerant of Earth’s microbes wouldn’t be able to survive there, a new study has found. The findings seem to wipe out the hope stirred by last year’s discovery of molecules potentially created by living organisms in the scorched planet’s atmosphere that were seen as an indication of the possible presence of life.

Extensity study carried out

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The new study looked at measurements from probes that flew through the atmosphere of Venus and acquired data about temperature, humidity and pressure in the thick sulphuric acid clouds surrounding the planet. From these values, the scientists were able to calculate the so-called water activity, the water vapour pressure inside the individual molecules in the clouds, which is one of the limiting factors for the existence of life on Earth.

The findings are likely a disappointment for the Venus research community, which was invigorated last September by the discovery of phosphine, a compound made of atoms of phosphorus and hydrogen that on Earth can be associated with living organisms, in Venus’ atmosphere. At that time, researchers suggested the phosphines may be produced by microorganisms residing in those clouds.

Venus clouds were dry

Studies on microorganisms living in extreme conditions on Earth found that life can exist at temperatures as cold as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius). For water activity, which is measured on the scale from 0 to 1, the lowest survivable value is 0.585. The water activity level found in the molecules in the Venusian clouds was merely 0.004.

NASA Ames astrobiologist Chris McKay, one of the co-authors of the paper, said that the findings of the study were conclusive and the new fleet of space missions currently being prepared for Venus will not change anything about the hope for life on Earth’s closest neighbour.

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