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posted by hubie on Tuesday March 26, @08:26AM   Printer-friendly

https://phys.org/news/2024-03-life-blocks-stable-venus-conditions.html

If there is life in the solar system beyond Earth, it might be found in the clouds of Venus. In contrast to the planet's blisteringly inhospitable surface, Venus' cloud layer, which extends from 30 to 40 miles above the surface, hosts milder temperatures that could support some extreme forms of life.

If it's out there, scientists have assumed that any Venusian cloud inhabitant would look very different from life forms on Earth. That's because the clouds themselves are made from highly toxic droplets of sulfuric acid—an intensely corrosive chemical that is known to dissolve metals and destroy most biological molecules on Earth.

But a new study by MIT researchers may challenge that assumption. Published today in the journal Astrobiology, the study reports that, in fact, some key building blocks of life can persist in solutions of concentrated sulfuric acid.

The study's authors have found that 19 amino acids that are essential to life on Earth are stable for up to four weeks when placed in vials of sulfuric acid at concentrations similar to those in Venus' clouds. In particular, they found that the molecular "backbone" of all 19 amino acids remained intact in sulfuric acid solutions ranging in concentration from 81% to 98%.

"What is absolutely surprising is that concentrated sulfuric acid is not a solvent that is universally hostile to organic chemistry," says study co-author Janusz Petkowski, a research affiliate in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).

[...] The search for life in Venus' clouds has gained momentum in recent years, spurred in part by a controversial detection of phosphine—a molecule that is considered to be one signature of life—in the planet's atmosphere. While that detection remains under debate, the news has reinvigorated an old question: Could Earth's sister planet actually host life?

In search of an answer, scientists are planning several missions to Venus, including the first largely privately funded mission to the planet, backed by California-based launch company Rocket Lab. That mission, on which Seager is the science principal investigator, aims to send a spacecraft through the planet's clouds to analyze their chemistry for signs of organic molecules.

Journal Reference:
Maxwell D. Seager, Sara Seager, William Bains, and Janusz J. Petkowski. Stability of 20 Biogenic Amino Acids in Concentrated Sulfuric Acid: Implications for the Habitability of Venus' Clouds. Astrobiology. ahead of print http://doi.org/10.1089/ast.2023.0082


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  • (Score: 3, Touché) by looorg on Tuesday March 26, @08:46AM (2 children)

    by looorg (578) on Tuesday March 26, @08:46AM (#1350394)

    ... the planet's blisteringly inhospitable surface, Venus' cloud layer, which extends from 30 to 40 miles above the surface, hosts milder temperatures ... the clouds themselves are made from highly toxic droplets of sulfuric acid

    I don't think it's going to be life as we would recognize it. Still all we have to do is find something that can withstand Sulfuric Acid and build us a Star Wars like Cloud City up there. If you thought Mars was a pipe dream far into the future ...

    • (Score: 5, Funny) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Tuesday March 26, @12:57PM

      by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Tuesday March 26, @12:57PM (#1350406)

      I don't think it's going to be life as we would recognize it.

      Never underestimate what new law Alabama is capable of coming up with.

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday March 26, @04:27PM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday March 26, @04:27PM (#1350438)

      I think this just lends more credence to the theory of life on Earth first starting at the high temperature high pressure mineral rich deep ocean volcanic vents... A lot of what lives there now is quite recognizable...

      Sulpheric is pretty easy, glass will do. Hydrofluoric is something else...

      --
      🌻🌻 [google.com]
  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by shrewdsheep on Tuesday March 26, @12:19PM (1 child)

    by shrewdsheep (5215) on Tuesday March 26, @12:19PM (#1350402)

    Amino acids might well be stable but they would have to be produced in that environment. Then you would need peptides bonds of which are less stable than those in amino acids. Also some proteins might well be stable Venus' atmosphere but they would have to be made.

    • (Score: 2) by krishnoid on Wednesday March 27, @04:56AM

      by krishnoid (1156) on Wednesday March 27, @04:56AM (#1350536)

      I'm pretty sure everyone here's seen this classic scene [youtu.be] from Alien, but ... I'll leave it here just in case someone hasn't.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Thexalon on Tuesday March 26, @12:30PM (1 child)

    by Thexalon (636) on Tuesday March 26, @12:30PM (#1350403)

    There's good reason to think that the early Earth had a lot of the same chemical composition as Venus, and the planets have very similar gravity and other characteristics. So it may well be that proving that organic molecules can form and make life on Venus would demonstrate conclusively that organic molecules that we know could form on early Earth could also have made life.

    As you can imagine, the "Earth-is-6000-years-old" crowd hates this conclusion with a passion.

    --
    The only thing that stops a bad guy with a compiler is a good guy with a compiler.
  • (Score: 2) by Deep Blue on Tuesday March 26, @02:48PM (2 children)

    by Deep Blue (24802) on Tuesday March 26, @02:48PM (#1350417)

    you know the rest.

    • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 26, @02:59PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 26, @02:59PM (#1350422)

      ... our sulfuric acid overlords?

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday March 26, @05:06PM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday March 26, @05:06PM (#1350451)

      I suspect we are the sulfuric acid overlords, a few billion years evolved.

      --
      🌻🌻 [google.com]
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