The Venusian Lower Atmosphere Haze as a Depot for Desiccated Microbial Life: A Proposed Life Cycle for Persistence of the Venusian Aerial Biosphere

Citation:

Seager, Sara, Janusz Petkowski, Peter Gao, William Bains, Noelle Bryan, Sukrit Ranjan, and Jane Greaves. 2020. “The Venusian Lower Atmosphere Haze as a Depot for Desiccated Microbial Life: A Proposed Life Cycle for Persistence of the Venusian Aerial Biosphere.” Astrobiology.
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Abstract:

We revisit the hypothesis that there is life in the Venusian clouds to propose a life cycle that resolves the conundrum of how life can persist aloft for hundreds of millions to billions of years. Most discussions of an aerial biosphere in the Venus atmosphere temperate layers never address whether the life—small microbial-type particles—is free floating or confined to the liquid environment inside cloud droplets. We argue that life must reside inside liquid droplets such that it will be protected from a fatal net loss of liquid to the atmosphere, an unavoidable problem for any free-floating microbial life forms. However, the droplet habitat poses a lifetime limitation: Droplets inexorably grow (over a few months) to large enough sizes that are forced by gravity to settle downward to hotter, uninhabitable layers of the Venusian atmosphere. (Droplet fragmentation—which would reduce particle size—does not occur in Venusian atmosphere conditions.) We propose for the first time that the only way life can survive indefinitely is with a life cycle that involves microbial life drying out as liquid droplets evaporate during settling, with the small desiccated “spores” halting at, and partially populating, the Venus atmosphere stagnant lower haze layer (33–48 km altitude). We, thus, call the Venusian lower haze layer a “depot” for desiccated microbial life. The spores eventually return to the cloud layer by upward diffusion caused by mixing induced by gravity waves, act as cloud condensation nuclei, and rehydrate for a continued life cycle. We also review the challenges for life in the extremely harsh conditions of the Venusian atmosphere, refuting the notion that the “habitable” cloud layer has an analogy in any terrestrial environment.

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Last updated on 10/12/2020