Ronald Brak

Because not everyone can be normal.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Is there life on Venus?

Venus is not a very hospitable place by our standards. The atmospheric pressure is ninety times that on earth, the surface temerature is hot enough to melt lead, there is no pizza delivery, etc. However, it has been suggested that there could be bacterial life floating in the atmosphere about 50 kilometres off the ground where the pressure is roughly equal to sea level on earth, the temperature is about 50 degrees Celsius and there are tiny drops of floating water. Hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide have also been found which are unlikely to result from natural processes that we are aware of and so could be the by products of bacterial metabolism.

In addition, patches in the atmosphere of Venus have been detected that absorb ultraviolet light. It is possible this is caused by bacteria using it to photosynthesise. Although there is no life we know of on earth that uses ultraviolet light to photosynthesise, the fluorescent tube in my living room converts ultraviolet light into visible light everyday without difficulty. It may be possible for bacteria to do something similar.

So, how can we find out if there is life there? There are three ways. One is to send a probe that would skim through the atmosphere and capture a sample and return it to earth. Another way would be to send a floating laboratory that would suspend itself from a balloon and analyse the atmosphere in place. Or a probe could simply capture a sample of atmosphere at the appropriate height and analyse it after it had landed. However, it might have to analyse quickly as the temperature and pressure on the surface aren’t very good for the survival of probes or of any life it may have collected.

Actually, there are more than three ways to discover if there is life on Venus, but all the other ways I can think of are kind of silly.


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