Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Was There Ever Life on Venus?

And did it look like Zsa Zsa Gabor?

[On June 5, 2012, Venus passed directly between the Earth and the Sun, a rare astronomical phenomenon known as the "Transit of Venus" that will occur again in 105 years. This month, 13.7 Billion Years considers "Earth's twin," from the scientific study of the planet to its mythological underpinnings, with the series Second Rock from the Sun.]

Today, the atmosphere of Venus is challenging for life, to say the least. It has clouds composed of sulfuric acid. The surface pressure is about 90 times that of Earth's. And it has temperatures that, according to, "can melt tin and vaporise mercury."

Venus wasn't always that threatening. It is believed that around 4 billion years ago, some 500 million years before life as we know it began on our own planet, Venus had a rather welcoming environment: covered with liquid water, similar to early Earth. But an intense greenhouse effect took over and all the surface water evaporated, something that may happen here in the future.

"It's possible that Venus could have tiny microbes in its cloud particles, or that some form of Venusian life could have developed by using ultraviolet light much like Earth's plants use sunlight to make food," said David Grinspoon, a professor at the Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences Department at Colorado University at Boulder. "There could even be a non-carbon-based equivalent to lichens atop Venus' five-mile-high volcanoes, perhaps feeding on sulfur gases." Yum!

Andrew Ingersoll, a professor at the Geological and Planetary Sciences Department at the California Institute of Technology, speculates that the chemicals in Venus' atmosphere may have been used by extraplanetary microbes as a kind of protective sunscreen. Indeed, these microbes may be there right now and perhaps have even adapted to the Sun's ultraviolet rays (which would be much more powerful on Venus, as it does not have a protective magnetic layer as Earth does).

But if there was ever life on Venus, chances are those creatures would not have looked like Zsa Zsa Gabor in the 195i sci-fi film Queen of Outer Space in which she played the Venusian leader of the resistance to overthrow Venus' cruel Queen Yllana.

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image: movie poster for Queen of Outer Space, Wikimedia Commons

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