Since we commenced with space exploration, scientists have been looking forward to finding life outside Earth. Several observations have proven that Venus’ clouds may be habitable to some form of microbial lifeforms. Since private agencies are now dominating the space, we should be expecting a visit to the Hellish planet anytime soon. An American Aerospace company, Rocket Lab is anticipating to launch its Electron rocket mission to Venus in January 2025.
The entrepreneurial launch vehicle provider is hoping to search for signs of life in Venus clouds by making an effort to discover proof of organic chemistry in its Clouds of Sulfuric Acid. Sara Seager, a professor of planetary sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is currently working as the principal investigator for the Venus Life Finder.
The mission to Venus Life Finder is the first mission under numerous planned Morning Star Missions to Venus. In 2023, Seager and her team including her university son published a research paper titled: “Stability of nucleic acid bases in concentrated sulfuric acid: Implications for the habitability of Venus’ clouds.”
The fascinating project was featured in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a peer-reviewed journal of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We’re trying to look into the possibility that sulfuric acid droplets could host a biochemistry, not our personal biochemistry, but a different biochemistry,” Seager told Space.com. “We have a lot of lab experiments ongoing and some are coming to fruition.”
The published paper suggests that the Venusian clouds contains concentrated sulfuric acid. This implies that its atmosphere could contain nasty and aggressive chemical compounds that damage most of Earth’s life’s biochemicals. Scientists assume them to be hostile to any kind of life known to mankind.
future venus mission: How Scientists are Studying Cloud Particles in Venus Clouds
While Venus clouds contain nasty and aggressive chemical compounds, scientists still think that there is the possibility of life existing in this region. Seager and her colleagues discovered that the key molecules required for life (nucleic acid bases) are extremely stable in concentrated sulfuric acid.
Hence, this discovery advances the notion that Venus’ atmosphere environment may likely support the existence of complex chemical compounds required to sustain life.
“We do not know if the origin of life in concentrated sulfuric acid is possible, but such a possibility cannot be excluded a priori. Life could use concentrated sulfuric acid as a solvent instead of water and could have originated in the cloud droplets in liquid concentrated sulfuric acid,” explains the paper.
“Our findings show that complex organic chemistry, including DNA nucleic acid bases, can be stable in concentrated sulfuric acid,” the researchers note and motivates them to design missions that directly probe the cloud particles for the presence of organic material. “Ultimately a sample return from the Venus atmosphere may be needed to robustly identify life, if present,” they explain.
How the team conducted the study
Seager and her team researched the possibility of sulfuric acid supporting lifeforms that are different from Earth. Seager and her University son mixed a brew of sulfuric acid in Seager’s home before moving it to a lab at MIT.
Max Seager, a 20-year-old junior researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts contributed immensely to the success of the project. Space.com interviewed Max Seager to learn more about the research. In addition, the young scientist shared a deep insight into the study.
“Specifically for the amino acid studies, we really only started the amino acid project after I broke my arm and had a lot more time to spend at home doing research,” Max Seager told Space.com.
Max also revealed that it is quite extremely difficult to order large volumes of concentrated sulfuric acid. However, the team managed to order numerous small bottles to support the research.
“I think the standout thing of our research focus on Venus is that almost no one else really knows anything about the topic of sulfuric acid as a solvent. Besides our group, a few others, and some researchers in the early 1900s no one really knows much at all about sulfuric acid,” Max Seager said. “In part, what makes the research so amazing is the simplicity of it, since no one has ever thought of, or been motivated to do these types of studies,” he added.
Max Seager reveals that he is considering furthering his studies in the field of astrobiology/astrochechemisty to enable him to contribute immensely to the future of finding life outside Earth.
The team published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).