Venus’ environment could support certain types of life • Earth.com

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A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is forcing us to reconsider how unlikely life is on Venus. Researchers have discovered that some of the core building blocks of life on Earth are surprisingly stable when exposed to corrosive sulfuric acid in Venus’ atmospheric clouds.

Until recently, most scientists would not have given the concept of life on Venus a second thought. With a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead and a toxic atmosphere spewing sulfuric acid, our neighbor Venus looks completely inhospitable to all forms of life as we understand it.

But is there something living inside that swirling fiery cloud?

A new perspective on Venus

Venus’ surface may be the closest thing to hell we know, but conditions in the upper layers of Venus’ clouds are surprisingly calm.

The challenge in imagining life on Venus is that its environment is very different from Earth’s. Those floating cities of sulfuric acid would dissolve the most familiar biological matter in minutes.

So, if life do Existing on Venus must be very different from what we are used to.

Amino acids and Venus

The MIT team specifically focused on amino acids. These small molecules combine to form proteins, which are critical to life on Earth.

“Considering the four main building blocks of life are nucleobases, amino acids, fatty acids, and carbohydrates, some fatty acids can form micelles and vesicles in sulfuric acid, and nucleobases are stable in sulfuric acid. “We demonstrated that it’s an acid,” said study co-author Maxwell Seeger, an undergraduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).

“Carbohydrates have been shown to be highly reactive in sulfuric acid. As a result, only amino acids were left as the last major building blocks to study.”

Proteins provide essential structure and perform a myriad of functions in everything from microscopic bacteria to the largest animals on Earth. If life exists there, it almost certainly depends on proteins in some way.

Stability of amino acids in sulfuric acid

The researchers dissolved 19 different amino acids, the types important for life on Earth, in sulfuric acid at concentrations matching the acidity of Venus’ clouds. Incredibly, the core structure of these amino acids remained stable for weeks even under these incredibly harsh conditions.

“People have a perception that concentrated sulfuric acid is a very aggressive solvent that shreds everything,” said study co-author and researcher in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Division of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). says Janusz Petkowski. “But we are finding that this is not necessarily true.”

“What is quite surprising is that concentrated sulfuric acid is not a universally hostile solvent for organic chemistry.”

Does life exist on Venus?

This study does not prove the existence of life on Venus. We have a long way to go before we discover tiny microorganisms floating on Venus. But it’s a big improvement.

“Simply showing that this skeleton is stable in sulfuric acid does not mean that there is life on Venus,” Maxwell Seeger said. “But if we had shown that this spine was compromised, there would have been no possibility of life as we know it.”

“We found that the building blocks of life on Earth are stable in sulfuric acid, which is very interesting for considering the possibility of life on Venus,” said study author and MIT researcher in 1941. added graduate professor Sarah Seeger.

This indicates that Venus’ chemical reactions may not be as immediately destructive to organic molecules as we assumed. It opens the door to imagining the existence of life that we do not yet understand.

Moreover, it directs future research. Scientists now know that Venus’ atmosphere needs a closer look at amino acids that are essential for life on Earth. Future space exploration and research can be based on this knowledge.

Life on Venus: The quest continues

The search for life on Venus is gaining serious momentum. This MIT research, along with the controversial detection of phosphine (another potential sign of life) in Venus’ atmosphere, has scientists around the world more curious than ever about our neighbor. I have it.

“There are only a few groups in the world currently studying the chemistry of sulfuric acid, and I think we can all agree that no one has an intuition,” added Sarah Seeger. “I’m especially happy that this latest result adds another ‘yes’ to the possibility of life on Venus.”

Additionally, a privately funded mission with MIT professor Sarah Seager as lead scientist is scheduled to launch in 2025. The spacecraft will travel through Venus’ clouds, searching for signs of life and analyzing its chemical composition.

All in all, it is an amazing, humbling, and exciting time to be alive as we seek a deeper understanding of our place in the universe.

The study was published in the journal Astrobiology.

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