Could there be life in Venus' clouds?
The surface of Venus is largely considered inhospitable due to the searing temperatures and lack of water.
However, a group of scientists strongly suspect that microbial life may be residing in the clouds above the planet.
Thick clouds full of sulphuric acid hover above Earth’s closest neighbour sometimes have dark streaks in them which seem to absorb ultraviolet radiation.
Some experts speculate that the dark streaks actually appear as there may be microbial life.
NASA is in talks with Russia about its Venera-D mission, which could launch in the 2020s – and could be the first probe to discover if there is any scientific basis to the theory.
The space agency has agreed to perform a year-long feasibility study and several meetings during the next year.
After that time NASA and Russia’s Space Research Institute, or IKI, will decide whether to continue its partnership, according to a report in Spaceflight Now.
The dark streaks, seen in UV light, were found to be absorbing UV radiation could point to lif
Sanjay Limaye, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a former chair of NASA's Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG), told space.com: "It [alien life] is a possibility we can't overlook.”
While temperatures on the surface of Venus can reach 462 degrees celsius – hot enough to melt led and way beyond the threshold that life could survive – there is a point on the planet, 31 miles above the surface in the atmosphere which is just between 30 and 70 degrees celsius.
Venus is the nearest planet to Earth
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Previous missions, most notably the Soviet Union’s Venera space robes which saw 10 crafts land on Venus during the 60s and 70s, detected elongated particles in the clouds which were only one micron long – roughly the size of small bacterium.
Scientists theorise that the potential bacterium could have coated themselves in a molecule known as S8 which is also in the clouds and resistant to the corrosive effects of sulphuric acid and also absorbs the ultraviolet radiation.
The clouds of Venus
Mr Limaye added: "I cannot say that there is microbial life in Venus' clouds.
"But that doesn't mean it's not there, either. The only way to learn is to go there and sample the atmosphere.”
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As such, Limaye and his team are submitting a final report to Roscosmos – Russia’s space agency – and Nasa outlining a Venera-D mission, which proposes to send a spacecraft through the clouds of Venus to check for signs of life.
Regarding the possibility of life on Venus, he said: "These are questions that haven't been fully explored yet, and I'm shouting as loud as I can, saying that we need to explore them.”
Mr Limaye added: "The idea is that, with a large enough wingspan, you can generate enough power and actually fly through the atmosphere of Venus, with electric propellers, for a very long time.”