2023 Mission to Venus Will Search For the Signs of Life in Acidic Clouds

By: | December 15th, 2021

Image courtesy: Wikimedia

A team led by MIT researchers is sending a probe to search for the signs of life among the ultra-acidic atmosphere of Venus.  

For decades, scientists have sent multiple rovers to Mars and have collected a lot of information. But now scientists are also paying attention to Venus (another neighbor of our Earth).

As per present information, Venus does not appear to be a promising place to find life. Venus Surface temperatures at the Venus soar to 464 °C (867 °F). Its atmosphere is composed almost entirely of CO2, and pressures are up to 92 times higher than at sea level on Earth.

However, many scientists are hoping to get some positive information at altitudes between 48 and 60 km (30 and 37 miles). This is because of the fact that at these altitudes pressure is less intense, the temperature is cooler and there’s more water in the air. These conditions could all support microbial communities. 

“There are these lingering mysteries on Venus that we can’t really solve unless we go back there directly, “says Sara Seager, principal investigator for the planned Venus Life Finder Missions. “Lingering chemical anomalies that leave room for the possibility of life.”

About the mission

This privately-fund mission is set to launch in May 2023. Funded by California-based Rocket Lab, this 50-pound probe will be launched atop Rocket Lab’s Electron launch. The probe will be equipped with an instrument called an autofluorescing nephelometer. This instrument will shine a laser through the Venusian clouds. In case organic or complex molecules are present there, they’ll fluoresce in response to the laser light. 

“If we see fluorescence, we know something interesting is in the cloud particles,” says Seager. “We can’t guarantee what organic molecule it is, or even be certain it’s an organic molecule. But it’s going to tell you there’s something incredibly interesting going on.”

The probe will have to travel a 38-million-mile journey just for a three-minute skim through the Venusian clouds.

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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