Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Most people tend to think of Venus as completely uninhabitable, given that its surface temperature hovers around 900 degrees Fahrenheit (480 degrees Celsius), which doesn’t seem very inviting.
But I have long championed the idea that life could exist in the thick cloud decks that shroud the planet. In my 1997 book Venus Revealed, I pointed out that our then-new view of Venus from the Magellan radar orbiter showed that our next-door solar system neighbor had a geologically active surface that must be interacting chemically with the cool clouds above, and possibly even biogeochemical flows that could encourage and nourish high-altitude organisms.
It has not been a popular view. Advertisement In the 1960s, atmospheric chemist James Lovelock was consulting for NASA in designing life detection instruments for Mars. He concluded that the best way to search was to simply study its atmosphere with spectrometers and look for the disequilibrium gases that life must produce. NASA ignored him and sent the billion-dollar Viking Lander, which in 1976 succeeded in landing on Mars and sending back revelatory photographs of the surface, crucial atmospheric measurements, and confusing and ambiguous biology results demonstrating that it’s hard to search for life without assuming very […]
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