April 13, 2024

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Venus is not as hostile to life as we thought.  Although one of its scariest elements: clouds of sulfuric acid

Venus is not as hostile to life as we thought. Although one of its scariest elements: clouds of sulfuric acid

A laboratory experiment demonstrated the stability of 19 amino acids in high concentrations of sulfuric acid

There was a time when we suspected that if life existed anywhere else in our solar system, it must be on Mars. However, over time, our focus has shifted elsewhere. Places like Venus.

More similar than we think. Venus is as inhospitable and hostile to life as our planet: but its harsh conditions may not be as inhospitable to it as we might suppose. This is what we can extract From experience Conducted in MIT laboratories.

Acids and amino acids. One of the keys to this experiment is sulfuric acid. A substance abundant in the atmosphere of Venus (oddly enough, the least hostile place on the planet) that has led experts to believe that if life existed on the neighboring planet, it must be radically different from what we know.

The other key is found in amino acids, which are molecules found in all living organisms on our planet, and which are considered the “building blocks of life” as we know it. Thanks to this new experiment, we know that approximately two dozen of these “bricks” are able to resist high concentrations of sulfuric acid.

“This doesn't mean that life there would be the same as life here. In fact, we know it couldn't be. “But this work reinforces the idea that Venus's clouds may contain complex chemicals that life needs.” He explained in a press release Astrobiologist Sarah Seager.

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Bricks for life. Amino acids are molecules that our body combines to make its own proteins. We use these compounds for a wide range of physiological actions, from generating energy to repairing our tissues, to processing the food we consume, the authors state. This is something all living things on our planet have in common, which is why these molecules are essential to life as we know it.

in the laboratory. The team tested 20 amino acids, 19 of which remained stable after being immersed in concentrations of sulfuric acid ranging from 81% to 98%, which is the concentration of this substance that can be found in the clouds of Venus. They then studied these amino acids using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.

Hence, they verified that of the 20 molecules studied, 19 remained stable after at least four weeks. Details of the experiment have been published In an article In the magazine Astrobiology.

“We are discovering that the building blocks of life on Earth are stable in sulfuric acid, and this is very interesting for the idea that life could exist on Venus,” Seager said. They explain that this acid is not “universally hostile” toward organic chemistry.

perhaps yes; But hypothetical. After the controversy that arose because Detection error Of phosphine on Venus, a gas that is a biomarker when synthesized and emitted by living organisms, it is always advisable to treat this type of finding with caution. The same responsible team stressed in its statement that “complex organic chemistry is not life, although there is no life without it.”

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Of the four main types of “building blocks” of life (nucleic bases, amino acids, fatty acids, and carbohydrates), three have already been studied. exactly like Maxwell Seeger explains, co-author of the study, found that fatty acids are able to form fungi and vesicles in sulfuric acid and that nucleobases are stable in this compound; Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are highly reactive.

And now we have a study analyzing the fourth group of chemicals essential for life.

The future of Venus exploration. Venus It is a planet of contradictions, there is no doubt. A place with clouds of sulfuric acid on which we have practically ruled out the possibility of life existing on its surface. However, the planet's atmosphere is one of the most interesting places in our solar system for astrobiology.

This translates into missions launching over the next decade to explore the neighboring planet. Two of the main missions, DaVinci and Veritas (which are expected to depart In 2029 and 2031), and it will be implemented by NASA; Third, visualization (which can be launched And also in 2031) and will be carried out by the European Space Agency.

In addition to these three missions, Rocket Lab Also announced Recently he plans to develop a mission to this planet. China And India They are also preparing for missions to Venus.

In Chataka | A green beam illuminated Venus in the night sky. It is not an unknown phenomenon, but it is very difficult to see

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Image | JAXA/JJ Petkowski