Could life exist in Venus’ atmosphere?

Venus is an extremely inhospitable world on the surface, but high up in its atmosphere, life may be able to survive. Credit: NASA / JPL
Venus is an extremely inhospitable world on the surface, but high up in its atmosphere, life may be able to survive. Credit: NASA / JPL

Venus has a reputation for being one of the most inhospitable places in the solar system, and deservedly so. Its thick carbon dioxide (and acidic) atmosphere has a crushing pressure similar to that in the deepest oceans on Earth and the scorching temperature on the surface is hot enough to melt lead. It’s like that everywhere on the planet, all the time. It has therefore been considered an extremely unlikely environment to support any kind of life. Even the toughest microbes here would find survival next to impossible. There is however a possibility, even if remote, that the upper atmosphere of this hellish world could be habitable, according to some scientists.

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Cassini views Venus from Saturn’s shadow

Cassini's view of Venus, as seen from Saturn. Venus is the bright speck shining through Saturn's rings, which are backlit by the sun in this image. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute
Cassini’s view of Venus, as seen from Saturn. Venus is the bright speck shining through Saturn’s rings, which are backlit by the sun in this image. Click for larger version.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

The Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn for a long time now, taking stunning images of the giant planet and its rings and moons. Some new images, released today, show a different world though, far across the solar system and much closer to the sun -Venus.

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Scorching hot Venus can be cold enough for snow

Image of Venus from Venus Express showing the terminator along which the colder atmospheric layer was discovered.
Credit: ESA / MPS, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany

When you think of Venus, the image that comes to mind is that of a sweltering hot hell-hole, which is basically true. With temperatures on the surface hot enough to melt lead and crushing atmospheric pressure, it is not the kind of place you’d want to take a vacation.

But now scientists have found an unusual anomaly, a region of Venus’ atmosphere that is the opposite of this. About 125 kilometres (78 miles) above the surface, there is a layer in the atmosphere which is approximately -175˚ C (-283˚ F). That is cold enough that carbon dioxide, which comprises most of Venus’ thick atmosphere, could turn to ice or snow. It’s even colder than any part of Earth’s atmosphere.

See Examiner.com for the full article.

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