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New Scientist: Venus' Atmosphere Implies Life 281

Posted by chrisd
from the conway-would-be-proud dept.
WolfWithoutAClause writes "This New Scientist article says that the atmosphere of Venus has features that may only be explaineable by the existence of life in its upper atmosphere. In particular it has cartain chemicals which are extremely difficult to make inorganically. At the altitude where life is suspected the temperature is about 70C and about 1 atmosphere. There are gases there which are not naturally found together. The article suggests something is actively producing them, quite possibly, life."
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New Scientist: Venus' Atmosphere Implies Life

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  • Life? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 26, 2002 @03:27AM (#4334123)
    There are more than a few explanations for that, I hate New Scientist, they jump to conclusions too often in an effort to drum up interest in their articles.
    • Re:Life? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by squaretorus (459130)
      Actually, the articles themselves seldom go so far as the articles ABOUT the articles (i.e. this story).

      New Scientist do a pretty good PR job every week to get some story into the press / radio to generate some interest. Usually the story itself will be relatively light, and centred on a new piece of research which raises a possibility - it is the tabloid reporting of these that state 'Mer are all dicks, and there IS life of Venus' or some such (I'll never get that sub-ed job).
    • by egommer (303441) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @07:08AM (#4334851) Homepage
      We may have found Lando's Cloud City. We must inform the Emperor. The Imeprial have already been dispatched. The rebel resistance will be crushed.

      Regards,

      D.V.
    • Re:Life? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      For a while I foolishly believed that the
      New Scientist was a reputable magazine...
      but my fiancee (who is a real scientist, does stuff with dna & microbes & proteins that I'll never understand - I'll stick to my C++ and my Java ;^)
      eh..ah yes...she laughed. Long and loud.
      She compared it to the "Womans Weekly of the science world" (i.e. trash)

      Turns out that most scientists that read the New Scientist only read it for one reason: The job-advertisements in the back!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The Venera 13 & 14 landers arrived on the surface of Venus on March 1st and 5th, 1982, respectively. This is more then 20 yrs ago. Is it possible that small lifeforms from earth hitchhiked along and found the conditions favorable to reproduce? Would 20 years be enough to get enough bacteria to color the clouds of a planet?
      The Apollo 12 mission brought back some parts of the unmanned Surveyor 3 probe, which had been on the surface of the moon for 31 months. The Surveyor 3 had not been sterilized prior to its launch, and the researchers found a few small colonies of bacteria (Streptococcus mitis) inside some parts of the probe which had survived the 31 month exposure to the lunar environment.
      Of course, the bacteria could have also been accidentally introduced during the trip home or during the research....
    • Re:Life? (Score:3, Funny)

      by matrix29 (259235)
      There are more than a few explanations for that, I hate New Scientist, they jump to conclusions too often in an effort to drum up interest in their articles.

      Or just to play head games with people for laughs. Eggs are good for you today and now they're bad for you again and now they're good for you again. Confusing isn't it?

      And of course The ONION's take on this whimsy science... From FussyMonkey.COM (a wonderful archive of "The ONION RADIO NEWS")
      http://www.fussymonkey.com/orn/ [fussymonkey.com]

      Snickering [fussymonkey.com]
      Researchers Say Dog Urine Lowers The Risk Of Heart Disease
    • Here's one! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by leonbrooks (8043)
      Bit of a headscratcher for you: http://www.kronia.com/library/journals/venair.txt [kronia.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 26, 2002 @03:56AM (#4334127)
    Gotta be female. After all, Men are from Mars, etc.
  • Besides the typical "oooogle first post bork bork", I do have some sort of serious question to ask: Why are we focusing so much on mars instead of venus? Venus seems to be very earthlike in some ways, and if we could only find a way to cool it down some... :) Not to mention just plain having a better name and no nasty stigma of war.. Oh yeah, and speaking of space, why has /. been up and down the last 20 minutes?!
    • the reason that we focus on mars is that at least on mars we could land a craft without it melting before it touches the ground.

      the temperature on venus is several 100 degrees C, not to mention the storms that rage at speeds near the speed sound, and the fact that the atmosphere would probably corrode the helmet off an astronaut in 30 minutes.

      • Hmph. Well don't I feel right well stupid. Thanks for the info though, that's pretty insane and interesting. Hmmm, perhaps we could change a few entries in holy scripture, make venus the new holyland, and send all the extremists and fundamentalists THERE?
  • by herwin (169154) <herwin@th e w o r ld.com> on Thursday September 26, 2002 @04:02AM (#4334153) Homepage Journal
    New Scientist is not a peer-reviewed journal and often publishes speculative articles. This report is interesting, but I'd like to see the scientific article. There are alternative explanations, I'm sure, and I'm interested in seeing whether they've been adequately ruled out. In any case, how would you test this theory?
  • by Anthony Boyd (242971) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @04:02AM (#4334156) Homepage

    From the article:

    He suggests the bugs could be using ultraviolet light from the Sun as an energy source. If they are absorbing UV, that would explain the presence of mysterious dark patches on ultraviolet images of the planet.

    I think this would be amazing. Whenever there has been a possibility of life before, it has always been microscopic bacteria frozen in rock or ice. Nearly undetectable, and certainly nothing that would visually incite people. But this? Huge swarms that discolor the atmosphere under ultraviolet light? If true, I'd bet that these images become more popular than Cindy Margolis.


    • > But this? Huge swarms that discolor the atmosphere under ultraviolet light? If true, I'd bet that these images become more popular than Cindy Margolis.

      Only among them what get their Viagra and LSD mixed up.

  • Developing ideas (Score:2, Informative)

    by DeadeyeFlint (38220)
    From the Article:

    Meanwhile the Swedish Space Agency is looking for international partners to develop their idea for a mission to return a sample of the atmosphere from Venus around 2010.

    So how'd you do it?

    • Re:Developing ideas (Score:5, Interesting)

      by richie2000 (159732) <rickard.olsson@gmail.com> on Thursday September 26, 2002 @04:17AM (#4334209) Homepage Journal
      So how'd you do it?

      1. Put a vehicle in orbit.
      2. Insert a probe into the atmosphere (either from the orbiter or as a separate vehicle). This probe could use one or more of several techniques (parachute, winged design (no retro-thrusters at this stage as this may contaminate the samples)) to perform a fairly slow and controlled descent.
      3. The probe fills a small canister with gas (possibly several compartments from different altitudes) and propels it back up into orbit before the pressure and gravity gets too high
      4. Dock the canister with the orbiter and send it back to earth.
      Difficult? Damn right. Impossible? Nope. Just keep those pesky imperial units away from the project and you should be set. The probe could continue to send back data to the orbiter as it goes down, but it's probably too much to ask for a soft landing.
      • Just keep those pesky imperial units away from the project and you should be set. The probe could continue to send back data to the orbiter as it goes down, but it's probably too much to ask for a soft landing.

        Even with a hard landing, make sure it has a self-destruct so the Rebels can't examine it.

        "A Wookie? What's a Wookie doing on..."

      • This can be achieved without having to actively propel the probe back up to orbit. Change the eccentricity of the orbit to go into the atmosphere, but not enough to cause it to crash into the planet. After it makes it's pass through the atmosphere, change the eccentricity back into near-circular and prepare to return to earth. This would take some skill, as atmospheric effects would affect the velocity and direction of the probe, and corrections would have to be made when the probe emerges.

        This was a very real concern during re-entry of the manned space missions. If the angle of re-entry was to steep, then the spacecraft would come in too fast and burn up. If the angle was too shallow, then the danger was the spacecraft would "bounce" off the atmosphere and get into an unpredictable orbit around the earth. In this case, we could use the bounce to our advantage.

        • Change the eccentricity of the orbit to go into the atmosphere, but not enough to cause it to crash into the planet.

          - Ensign, take us into eccentric orbit. Make it so. :-)

          I thought about that, but I wasn't sure if you could get far enough into the atmosphere to collect relevant samples - since these possible microbes seem to live in a specific layer. Also, the density of the venusian atmosphere would make this a very tricky proposition. That said, I think this approach can very well be used in one of the preparatory missions, to gather more data before the real deal.

      • Sounds like a typical over-engineered NASA fiasco with too many steps. Why not just build a small lifting-body system (reducing the need for tons of heavy heat tiles as entering the atmosphere will cause much less friction) that will dive into the atmosphere, scoop at various altitudes, then launch itself back out and into an earth-return orbit? One vehicle for lower launch weight, no complex in-orbit automatic rendezvous. Have the thing stop in Earth orbit where it can be retrieved by the Shuttle. Voila.
        • Sounds like a typical over-engineered NASA fiasco with too many steps.

          Does that mean I could pass myself off as a rocket scientist? :-)

          Why not just build a small lifting-body system

          Because that might actually work. :-) You'd still need some heat-shielding, though. I didn't think of launch weight (earth) as a factor since this whole shebang can be assembled in earth orbit (ISS, anyone?) and the re-exit canister wouldn't need any shielding, but having one single vehicle going in and back out would. The shuttle is basically a really obese lifting body in drag and it needs lots of heat shielding - but a lighter, aerodynamicaler (yes, I just made that word up, so there!) body would probably need less. Then again, the much denser atmosphere might create a problem with that assumption...

        • Acid. An entire Atmosphere made of Acid.
          You have to build enough shielding that the entire system (or even just some important exposed bit or piece) doesn't get devoured by Acid.

          Kintanon
  • Cool. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rde (17364) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @04:04AM (#4334162)
    A couple of thoughts occurred...

    1. Isn't the adjective pertaining to Venus 'venereal'?
    2. If true, life must truly be ubiquitous. In the solar system alone, we've got Earth, Mars, Europa, Titan and now Venus. Of course, there's only evidence so far of life on one, but the very fact that scientists are even considering it is a testament to life's tenacity.
    3. Can someone who knows more than I tell us all how easy it'd be for UV light to penetrate to the required depth? I wouldn't have thought it possible.
    • Re:Cool. (Score:2, Informative)

      by cyrek (556620)
      1. Isn't the adjective pertaining to Venus 'venereal'?

      Yes, but to avoid the obvious innuendo people tend to derive an alternative based on 'Martian'. i.e. 'Venusian' or 'Venutian'.

      But not 'Venison'.:)

      2. If true, life must truly be ubiquitous. In the solar system alone, we've got Earth, Mars, Europa, Titan and now Venus. Of course, there's only evidence so far of life on one, but the very fact that scientists are even considering it is a testament to life's tenacity.

      The evidence so far from those other places is purely hypothetical and circumstantial. But you're right - it is comforting to think that self-replicating patterns, structures and chemicals exist beyond our world. The big question is - Are those patterns found elsewhere complex enough to form sentient beings. Or am I being sentimental?

      3. Can someone who knows more than I tell us all how easy it'd be for UV light to penetrate to the required depth? I wouldn't have thought it possible.
      I seem to remember reading somewhere that it would be possible to see your surroundings if you were somehow able to survive a visit to Venus' surface - the light being a dark dull red glow. If ordinary light can get through then UV will definitely make it to the surface - On a cloudy day here on Earth, 80% of the UV radiation can make it through the clouds. People don't get suntans on those days simply because they spend more time indoors.
      • I seem to remember reading somewhere that it would be possible to see your surroundings if you were somehow able to survive a visit to Venus' surface - the light being a dark dull red glow.

        Well for what it's worth, Venera 9 and Venera 10 managed to return images [solarviews.com] with lighting that was reportedly similar to an overcast summer day on Earth. (At least the Venera 10 photo was.) I'm not sure if that means visual light or not.

        Too bad the view wouldn't stop human tourists from being crushed to death, combusted into nothing and suffocated, all simultaneously. :)


      • 1. Isn't the adjective pertaining to Venus 'venereal'?

        Yes, but to avoid the obvious innuendo people tend to derive an alternative based on 'Martian'. i.e. 'Venusian' or 'Venutian'.

        You can use "Cytherean" [xrefer.com] as well.

    • In the solar system alone, we've got Earth, Mars, Europa, Titan and now Venus. Of course, there's only evidence so far of life on one, but the very fact that scientists are even considering it is a testament to life's tenacity.

      Personally I'm not that enthuiastic yet. Scientists were considering life on Mars, the Moon and life on Venus and life outside of Earth generally 100 years ago, too. Respected scientists throughout history were involved in a lot of these theories, which unfortunately were often hyped out of proportionby media and others. It doesn't mean that the basis for the considerations were correct or meaningful or led to anything except for hype.

      There's definitely a lot of anecdotal evidence so far supporting the idea that life might exist in other places, and it's interesting. I'm going to wait for life somewhere else to actually be proven before I get too excited, though.

    • It could be that life formation is extraordinarily unlikely and occurred on a single planet in our system [eg mars]. Once firmly established on that planet a glancing blow from a largish asteroid could release dust containing the basic compounds [DNA, or perhaps simpler stepping stone molecules] from the planets gravitational pull.

      This is all conjecture anyway. We have no proof that life exists on these other planets. New Scientist these days is a tremendously speculative publication.

      For a good discussion about life's probability's, read Not By Chance by Dr. Lee Spetner.
      • ---For a good discussion about life's probability's, read Not By Chance by Dr. Lee Spetner.---

        Spetner's discussion of the issue is about as good as someone who claims that helium filled ballon cannot rise, because given random movement, it's very unlikely that it would go straight upwards. You can't simply calculate odds of something as if every process were random. Discussing the potential origins of life is fundamentally about _mechanism_, not mere probability.
    • there's only evidence so far of life on one, but the very fact that scientists are even considering it is a testament to life's tenacity.

      A testament to wishful thinking, maybe, but no real proof of life's tenacity at all.

      Not, mind you, that I have any objections to theories of extraterrestrial life, just that this particular factoid doesn't really support your hypothesis.

      • by rde (17364)
        Not, mind you, that I have any objections to theories of extraterrestrial life, just that this particular factoid doesn't really support your hypothesis.

        Damn me for trying to fit too much information into a pithy wee sentence. You're right, of course. What I should have said what that we're increasingly coming across environments on Earth where life is thriving; hot springs, nuclear cooling rods... basically, there are more and more environments out there where life can be supported; be it via geothermal energy on Europa, clouds on Venus, subterranean rock on Mars (what's the word that should be there instead of 'subterranean'?)... the list goes ever on.

        Of course, this says nothing about the genesis of life; that could still be a one in a godzillion chance. But once it's established, everything we know (from our limited vantage point) tells us that it's hard to get rid of.
  • Hmm..... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by neksys (87486) <grphillips AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday September 26, 2002 @04:05AM (#4334163)
    Remember that astronomers once said Mars was covered with a complex network of irrigation ditches, which implied the presence of life. Take this with a grain of salt - we know so little about our own solar system that we must treat all discoveries as hypotheses - nothing more, nothing less.
    • Yes, but just because they were wrong about A doesn't mean they are wrong about B.
    • Yes, we should treat them as hypotheses deserving of vigourous investigation. That's how you learn. Well, it's how I debug.
  • Humm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hatchet (528688) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @04:06AM (#4334167) Homepage
    Maybe numerous earth probes infected venus' atmosphere with life.
    • Yes. We put it there.

      Here is the scenario as I see it.

      1. Earth sends 'probes' (hee hee - he said 'probes') to Venus.
      2. Earth accidentally 'seeds' Venus with our 'probes'.
      3. New Scientist reports infected atmosphere on Venus. Possible bugs.
      4. Earth sends more 'probes' to Venus to bring back sample.
      5. Accidental release of sample into Earth's atmosphere......
      6. ?
      7. Profit.
      8. Earth decimated by 'venereal'' bugs, or VD.

      There you have it. We are the origin of our destruction.
    • Well, if the life survived at the pretty extreme conditions (acidic, etc) at Venus. I mean, they woiuldn't *come* from that environment, so I find it hard to believe that they'd function in the way to *survive* in that environment. Then it's easier for me to believe that the life there is native to Venus. Although *neither* of these life theories feel easy to accept.

      But who knows? There are bacteria surviving in the depths of volcanos on earth.
    • by jc42 (318812) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @12:21PM (#4337134) Homepage Journal
      Several astronomers have written articles about the contamination (or colonization) of the rest of the planets by Earthly bacteria. They've known for some decades that bacterial spores are found throughout the Earth's atmosphere, including at very high altitudes. The Earth has a "dust tail" produced by the solar wind that very slowly strips off the outer atmosphere and blows it outward. This tail is something that interferes with some kinds of astronomy, so they must take it into account.

      The dust tail includes gases and fine dust particles, including things the size of bacterial spores. We've also known for decades that many such spores can survive indefinitely in space.

      The conclusion is obvious. Bacterial spores from Earth have been contaminating the outer solar system, probably for several billion years. Some of them will get picked up by meteoroids and comets and carried back to the inner solar system, so Mercury and Venus have also been colonized by these bacteria.

      Probably not many survive. But it's likely that some do. And, of course, their descendants will have re-colonized the Earth.

      The solar system is a pretty messy place, when you look at it on a microscopic scale.

      One article I read back in the 70's did a rough calculation on a larger scale. The Earth circles the galaxy in about 250,000 years. We've made more than a dozen orbits since bacterial life arose here, spraying spores most of that time. The author calculated that by now the entire galaxy has been contaminated several times over by Earthly spores. Of course, we don't know how many could survive interstellar space for the required millions of years.

      But it's fun to think about.

      • One article I read back in the 70's did a rough calculation on a larger scale. The Earth circles the galaxy in about 250,000 years. We've made more than a dozen orbits since bacterial life arose here, spraying spores most of that time. The author calculated that by now the entire galaxy has been contaminated several times over by Earthly spores. Of course, we don't know how many could survive interstellar space for the required millions of years.

        Or perhaps the reverse: that galactic dust/comets have seeded the Earth with microbes rather than life being "native" to Earth.

        IOW, life here may be something like 10 billion years old instead of 5.

        Some alien in Orion may even hold a patent on all of us who came from it :-)

        • > Or perhaps the reverse: that galactic dust/comets have seeded the Earth with microbes ...

          Yup; that's the "panspermia" hypothesis that some astronomers (and some biologists) have discussed. In essence, all the places where life arose are busy contaminating the rest of the universe with spores.

          Now to collect some evidence ...

      • Wait a minute: for the microbes to seed the galaxy, how fast would they have had to be moving, and in which direction? They'd still have whatever momentum our solar system hadc(there isn't a lot of friction in space), and they'd only go outwards as fast as the solar wind could push them. Even with several shots of 250,000 years, I'm not sure they could get far enough to reach other solar systems with planets, much less the galaxy.
        • > ... for the microbes to seed the galaxy, how fast would they have had to be moving, and in which direction?

          It's been a few decades since I read that article, but as I recall, the author went into quite a lot of detail about the force of the solar wind and the velocities that it imparts to the Earth's dust tail.

          The effect isn't trivial. The solar wind varies over a wide range, but the speed of particles as they pass the Earth are comparable to the Earth's orbital speed. Most of the time, the solar wind is above escape velocity. The Earth's dust tail rapidly accelerates to solar-wind velocity. This was the crux of his calculations.

          The direction is easy: The dust tail starts off pointing away from the sun. The Earth is in a nearly circular orbit, so the dust tail is a spreading spiral. So the junk is heading out in all directions (though it's mostly close to the plane of the ecliptic).

          At the time in the Earth's orbit when it's leading the sun (in our galactic orbit), the dust tail is blowing ahead at more than escape velocity, so that part will spread outward ahead of us at speeds comparable to our speed around the galaxy,
          plus solar escape velocity. This is higher than galactical orbital speed in our neighborhood.

          In 4 billion years, some of those dust particles will have left the galaxy entirely. Most, however, will end up in assorted galactic orbits, until something bigger stops them.

          At the time in the Earth's orbit when it's following the sun, the dust tail will be escaping the solar system with a galactic speed below local orbital velocity. That part of the tail will tend to drop toward galactic center. Its speed will be low, so it might not have got there yet. Some will be soaked up by passing nebulae.

          At other times in the Earth's orbit, the dust tail will leave the solar system with intermediate galactic speeds. On average, the speed will be comparable to the solar system's speed, but in different directions. In 4 billion years, the particles will have easily crossed the entire galaxy, unless something stops them.

          Remember that in a billion years, the solar system circles the galaxy roughly 4 times. The Earth's dust tail spews out in all directions in the plane of the ecliptic. It has a speed comparable to our galactic orbital velocity, but in different directions. Dust particles and spores will also orbit the galaxy roughly 4 times per billion years, but in assorted directions.

          Find a friendly local astronomer or a few good books and do your own calculations. Then start thinking up your own SF plots. But remember that it can take a long time for a bacterial spore to evolve into a Klingon, even on a hospitable planet.

          The main unanswered question is how long bacterial spores can really survive in interstellar space. If they're only viable for a million years or so, they could only reach a few nearby stars. The basis of this topic is that bacterial spores do seem to be inert and unchanging, and potentially viable indefinitely.

  • by Zakabog (603757) <john@nosPAm.jmaug.com> on Thursday September 26, 2002 @04:11AM (#4334188)
    Shopkeeper: "... I must warn you they've found life on venus."

    Homer: "That's bad."

    Shopkeeper: "But it was only some bugs!"

    Homer: "That's good!"

    Shopkeeper: "The news was reported on New Scientist."

    Homer: "That's bad."

    Shopkeeper: "But they don't require you to register!"

    Homer: "That's good!"

    Shopkeeper: "They log your IP address and keep logs of all the pages you go to."

    [Silence; Homer looks puzzled]

    Shopkeeper: "That's bad."

    Homer: "Can I go now?"
  • by spankfish (167192) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @04:13AM (#4334195) Homepage
    Let's terraform the bastards before they evolve into ten foot tall insection beasts with razor sharp teeth, glistening with demonic slobber.

    Terraform Venus Now!
    • The problem with terraforming Venus is that it has a day about 240 Earth-days long. It would not be pleasent to be in the dark for 240 days, even if a way was found to keep warm. Then again, in northern Alaska they get used to something almost like that.

      Hmmmm. Maybe the poles may be a compromize.

      Venus is almost the same size as Earth, so it is a bummer that it is so hot and slow-rotating.

      Kind of an odd cooincidence that Venus is almost the same size as Earth, and Mars has almost the same rotation period.

      I wonder if we could not use the asteroid-Jupiter-gravity-drag trick to speed up Venus and/or move it to a further orbit? But if it gets too close to Earth, then it's gravity may upset our orbit.

      The ideal place would be the exact opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. However, getting it there (via asteroid technique) would require getting it too close to Earth before it can be inserted into that ideal position.

      Maybe if we gave it a tilted and/or elliptical orbit, then it would not pass by Earth often enuf to cause disturbances.

      Venus is a nice-sized rock. It would be a shame to let it go to waste. Mars is just too puny. It's surface gravity is something like 1/3 of Earth, and that cannot hold a thick enough atmosphere, let alone perhaps give colonizers gravity-related health problems.

      Maybe if we could crash Venus into Mars....
    • What, deliberately kill another planet's biosphere to pre-empt a dangerous civilisation developing there?

      Then when a ship of the law drops into Earth orbit, I think I'll want to be tried separately.

      Note to moderators: don't bother, I know...
  • Life Again (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HeLLaCooL75 (608002)
    This is getting so old. "We may have found life on Venus", "We may have found life on Europa"(intended), "We may have found life on Mars", "We may have found life in Bushes bedroom", "We may have found life ". When we finally find it. It'll be such a fucking anti-climax (No not failing to cum) that everyone will say "Finally!" wtf?
  • Contamination? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by magi (91730) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @04:24AM (#4334243) Homepage Journal
    I just wonder, if the phenomenom is really caused by bacteria, could it be a contamination from Venus probes?

    They probably didn't decontaminate the probes very well, and if the veneran atmosphere is ideal for some atmospheric bacteria, it could spread like a...disease.

    Don't fuck with Venus. Not without a condom at least.
    • if the veneran atmosphere is ideal for some atmospheric bacteria

      How about Venusian .

      Veneran sould like some type of sexually transmitted disease - although it seems like that's what you were aiming for with your last comment.
    • Interesting idea, but is a few decades long enough for a a few germs to not only evolve to thrive in local conditions, but also change the atmospheric composition of a large planet noticably?. In my completely uniformed opinion, probably not.
      • Re:Contamination? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by magi (91730) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @10:13AM (#4335993) Homepage Journal
        Let's do some calculations. Assume that the number of bacteria double once every month; this is a rather safe assumption, I'd say. Wait 8 years and the mass has multiplied by 2^(12*8) = 8e28 times. I don't know how much a bacterium weights, but if we guess that it's one microgram, we'll have a mass of 8e19 kilograms. Quite a lot.

        Spread that mass over Venus and you'll have ... (if I calculated correctly) ... 16 tonnes of bacterium per square meter all over the planet. Obviously, the bacterial growth would run out of energy from sunlight before this, somewhere between the 7th and 8th year.

        Since all of that mass would be from atmospheric gasses, you would have chemically transformed 16 tonnes of atmosphere per square meter. That's about 1,5 atmospheric pressures on Earth. Therefore, you would have transformed the entire atmosphere into bacteria. ;-)

        Of course, this assumes that the Venus atmosphere could supply just the right chemicals in just the right proportion. This is, of course, a critically false assumption.

        In any case, this illustrates that exponential growth can be remarkable. Remember that the observations were only about a certain area in the Venus atmosphere (70C etc), which might have the optimal conditions.

        But of course, if it really is contamination, and goes on unrestricted, it might actually...wheee...terraform Venus!
    • No need for it to be from a Venus probe.

      Recall that meteorites have been found in Antarctica that are believed to be from Mars. Recall also that it is believed that there have been multiple massive meteorite strikes on earth since the formation of life. Do you suppose it's possible that bacteria-containing rocks may have been expelled from the earth to Venus?
  • by jukal (523582) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @04:38AM (#4334301) Journal
    finnish sauna.

    At the altitude where life is suspected the temperature is about 70C and about 1 atmosphere. There are gases there which are not naturally found together. The article suggests something is actively producing them, quite possibly, life.

    • a finnish sauna.

      ALSO a place where large amounts of bacteriological life is present. In my experience astronauts to Venus will have to consume great quantities of alcohol to protect themselves - that's what the finns do.

      So I guess one could point out that the Russians are far better prepared to go to Venus than NASA.
  • oh great. (Score:5, Funny)

    by sawilson (317999) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @04:49AM (#4334336) Homepage
    New York Times August 10th, 2010

    KILLER VENUS MICROBE BROUGHT BACK BY SWEDEN
    "EATS EVERYTHING"

    You must have an account to read full text of
    story. :)
  • by Observer (91365) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @04:58AM (#4334387)
    See subject.

    The speculation is on the basis of finding two chemicals which don't typically persist for long in each others presence, Hydrogen Sulphide and Sulphur Dioxide. BBC news has a summary [bbc.co.uk].

    --
    "Now my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."- JBS Haldane.

  • by c.emmertfoster (577356) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @05:06AM (#4334412) Homepage
    To quote the article, "To look for possible signs of life, Schulze-Makuch and his colleague Louis Irwin looked at existing data..."

    Of course if they were looking for signs of life, they would find some anomalous results that they could present as "amazing."

    And from the /. headline I thought they had something tangible. Oh well.
  • by shimmin (469139) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @09:11AM (#4335545) Journal
    Well, there is a simple experiment that could be packed onto the next Venus atmospheric entry probe, that would probably be as cheap and as unambiguous a test for life as you can do without a sample retrieval. I don't know why they didn't put it aboard the Vikings.

    Collect a sample. Run it through a chromatography column. Put a polarimeter on the end. If there's anything chiral, you have life. If everything is completely racemic, you almost certainly don't.

  • Assuming that it is life, it seems unlikely that:

    • Life evolved in the clouds,
    • Life evolved on Venus's current surface environment.

    This would seem to indicate that conditions were more conducive to life in the past. I wonder if it was the life that led to the current surface conditions...
  • by hyacinthus (225989) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @10:23AM (#4336070)
    I found an interesting article which, among other things, discusses the presence of hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide in volcanic gases. The article is on the website of the U. S. Geological Survey and can be found here [usgs.gov]. A highlight:

    An interesting chemical relationship exists between the sulfur dioxide and the hydrogen sulfide released by the volcano. These two gases react quickly (within minutes) with each other to produce sulfur particles and water vapor. Both of the products of this reaction are odorless and are less toxic than either H2S or SO2. Most of the hydrogen sulfide released in eruptive areas on Kilauea is consumed and is converted to sulfur particles by this process, because there is much more sulfur dioxide than hydrogen sulfide coming out of the volcano. This is why you seldom smell hydrogen sulfide at the summit caldera or along the eruptive east rift. The volcano has its own hydrogen sulfide abatement system! Geothermal areas, by contrast, have no large quantities of SO2 available for reaction, so any H2S released is removed by reaction with oxygen in the air to form sulfur dioxide, a process that takes a day or more.

    But another sentence in the article implies that nevertheless the two gases can be found together. And certainly neither of them are produced by biological activity in this case.

    As for carbonyl sulfide (also "carbon oxysulfide", or COS - essentially carbon dioxide with sulfur substituting for one of the oxygens), I don't know much about how it can be synthesized. I suspect that it is a product of careful hydrolysis of thiophosgene (CSCl2 - itself not an easy thing to make), but this would hardly be occurring naturally. I know that the gas is unstable, susceptible to hydrolysis into carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. This article [scientecmatrix.com] discusses its presence in our own atmosphere; the bulk of it comes from natural sources.

    Incidentally, why do these articles on Slashdot of genuine scientific interest attract more stupid posts than usual? Everyone's trying to crack lame sci-fi jokes, and few are addressing the matter seriously.
  • Ben Bove (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SquadBoy (167263) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @11:30AM (#4336650) Homepage Journal
    is *so* loving life today. :)

    http://www.curtharmon.com/bova/tour/venus/defaul t. htm
  • by gloohufr (608470) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @11:35AM (#4336683)
    Highlight of the report:
    This gas is so difficult to produce inorganically that it is sometimes considered an unambiguous indicator of biological activity.
    But sometimes *not* an unambiguous indicator? Could that make it...let's see... *always* an *ambiguous* indicator?

    **keep your eyes on my buh buh-buh-buh bump**
  • http://www.benbova.net/venus_benbova.htm [benbova.net]

    Go and read about life on Venus in the book, it's a very good story :)
  • Gee, this sounds familiar [slashdot.org].

    Temperature of 70C... check.
    Earth-normal air pressure... check.

    My God! Venus' atmosphere is just like the inside of a tricked-out 4.7GHz tower with neon and Nixie tubes.

    NASA can save their money looking for life in an atmosphere like that. I've been to LAN parties -- you're not going to find a life anywhere near a box like that.
  • by solferino (100959) <hazchem@gmEULERail.com minus math_god> on Thursday September 26, 2002 @06:28PM (#4340080) Homepage
    this article brought up the question which i often ask myself - why is there so much attention paid to mars and so little to venus?

    surely venus is a much better long-term proposition for colonisation than mars? yes i know about it's crushing and extremely hot atmosphere, but this is something that can potentially be adapted to or ameliorated - perhaps even comprehensively changed by some atmosphere engineering

    what can not be changed about a planet is it's gravity - this is obviously a fundamental characteristic of a planet inextricably linked to it's mass - and mars' low gravity seems to me to be an intractable problem for colonists - ie maybe they could adapt to living there but they would never be able to return to earth

    finally, from a poetic viewpoint it would be nice if the human race made it's first step out into the solar system towards the planet of love and not the planet of war

    i welcome comments

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