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26 July 2008
Venus, Earth’s sister planet, has historically been written off as a planet which could harbour life. It has a dense atmosphere of mostly Carbon Dioxide, a strong greenhouse effect and surface temperatures of 450 degrees Celsius.
However, a new paper in the journal Astrophysics and Space Science by Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe and Dr. Janaki Wickramasinghe of the Cardiff Centre of Astrobiology suggests otherwise. They claim that the clouds of Venus could support microbial life – which could be transported to Earth.
After analysing new data from the European Space Agency’s Venus Express probe, the authors claim that bacteria which have been found in extreme conditions in sulphurous hot springs on Earth would also thrive in the Venusian clouds. The paper suggests that the chemical composition of the clouds, as well as the sizes and optical properties of its dust, show consistency with the action of microorganisms.
The scientists also claim that when the Sun, Earth and Venus are suitably aligned, microbes from the atmosphere of Venus could be transferred to Earth. They suggest a mechanism whereby microbes are carried to high levels in the Venusian atmosphere, and the powerful solar wind expels them to reach Earth within days or weeks. The last such alignment took place in 2004 and the next will happen in 2012.
Professor Wickramasinghe said: "Venus and Earth have often been referred to as sisters because of their geological similarities. Our research proposes that the two sisters may be biologically interconnected as well."
The new paper – On the possibility of microbiota transfer from Venus to Earth - is published online in Astrophysics and Space Science.
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