Life on Venus? Not so fast, scientists say. However, what about Jupiter?

Story Highlights

  • Most – but not all – cloudy planetary environments are not conducive to life.
  • Monday's study contradicts a widely-publicized study published last year that said life was possible in the clouds of Venus.
  • “If there is life in the clouds of Venus, then this life has to be ‘Life as we do not know it.''’

The amount of water within the clouds of Venus and most planets in the solar system is far too low to sustain life as we know it, suggests a new study published Monday.

This finding further indicates that most – but not all – cloudy planetary environments are not conducive to life. 

“The water in the clouds of Venus is just not up to the levels required to support life,” said study co-author Christopher McKay, a NASA scientist.   

Study lead author John E. Hallsworth of Queen’s University, Belfast, said research “shows that the sulfuric acid clouds in Venus have too little water for active life to exist, based on what we know of life on Earth.

However, the new research also shows that Jupiter’s clouds have a high enough concentration of water, as well as the correct temperature, for life to exist there. 

“We have also found that the conditions of water and temperature within Jupiter’s clouds could allow microbial-type life to subsist, assuming that other requirements such as nutrients are present,” Hallsworth said in a statement.

Venus hides a wealth of information that could help us better understand Earth and exoplanets. NASA is designing missions to survive the planet's extreme temperatures and atmospheric pressure. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“Now I’m not suggesting there’s life on Jupiter and I’m not even suggesting life could be there because it would need the nutrients to be there and we can’t be sure of that,” Hallsworth stressed to reporters at a press conference. “But still it’s a profound and exciting finding and totally unexpected.”

Monday’s report contradicts a widely publicized study published last year that said life was possible in the clouds of Venus. September’s surprise announcement by another research team said that strange, tiny organisms could be lurking in the thick, sulfuric acid-filled clouds of Venus. 

Life on Venus?: Astronomers see hint of life in clouds of Venus

Specifically, the paltry amount of water in Venus’ clouds is more than 100 times too low for life to form, Monday’s study said. 

“It’s almost at the bottom of the scale and an unbridgeable distance from what life requires to be active,” Hallsworth said. His team looked at the most dry-tolerant and also the most acid-tolerant microbes on Earth – and they “wouldn’t stand a chance in Venus.”

As for new explorations of Venus, three new spacecraft will be headed there later this decade and early next – two by NASA and one by the European Space Agency. Even with the new data from those missions, Hallsworth and McKay don’t expect their results to change regarding uninhabitable water activity at our solar system’s hottest planet.

The authors conclude that the approach used in this study can also be used to determine water activity in the atmospheres of planets beyond our solar system, thus narrowing down the extraterrestrial search for life. 

Back to the ‘hothouse’: NASA announces two upcoming missions to study the planet Venus

As for Venus, there’s always the possibility that any life in the planets’ clouds – if it exists – could be totally unlike anything on Earth and adapted to the hothouse planet’s extremely hot and harsh conditions, according to scientists.

“If there is life in the clouds of Venus, then this life has to be ‘life as we do not know it,’ said astrobiologist Janusz Petkowski of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The question is how different that life can be?”

The study was published in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Astronomy.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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