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The Clouds of Venus Are Too dry

A study made waves by indicating a chemical that had been recommended as a potential indicator of life was present in the atmosphere of Venus. While the hellish conditions on the planet’s surface precluded the existence of any sort of life there, it remained possible that a milder environment existed in the planet’s clouds, high above its surface.

The prospect that the chemical was indicating life couldn’t be immediately discounted. Other researchers cast doubt on the claim that the chemical was present at all. A paper is being released that suggests that the conditions in clouds of Venus are not compatible with life even remotely similar to that on Earth. Although the temperatures in the clouds are milder, there’s nowhere near enough water to support life, and most of what’s present are in droplets that are mostly composed of sulfuric acid.

In a press conference announcing the results, John Hallsworth of Queen’s University Belfast said that the new work was inspired by the apparent detection of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. He and his collaborators realized that two areas of research had combined to create other ways to examine the prospects of life on the planet. One was a study of life in extreme conditions on Earth, driven in part by a NASA effort to determine how best to protect Mars from contamination by the probes we were sent there.

The second was also NASA-driven: we’d sent probes into the atmospheres of some planets and imaged others. While these probes didn’t look for life, they provided direct measurements of things like temperature and pressure, which set limits on things like the amount of water present in the atmosphere, and the form that it will adopt.

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