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Does Alien Life Thrive in Venus’ Mysterious Clouds?by Markus Hammonds, DNews
Personally, I’ve always thought that Venus gets a lot of bad press. Sure, it’s wrapped in clouds so strongly acidic that they dissolved the first few probes we tried to land there, and it has a surface temperature high enough to melt lead — but just above the cloud decks of Venus, you’ll find some of the most “Earth-like” conditions in our entire solar system.
This has prompted some astrobiologists to wonder if, contrary to popular belief, Venus may actually be a home to life of some kind. Perhaps we’ve been looking in the wrong place, and life on Venus is not on its surface but in its clouds.
In fact, roughly 50 to 65 kilometers (30-40 miles) above the surface of Venus, conditions are quite hospitable. Both temperature and pressure are similar to those on Earth. Water vapor and even scarce amounts of free oxygen can be found there. There isn’t much, but it’s there.
Astrobiological studies of Venus are, by nature, highly speculative. The notion sounds audacious but, from what we know of Earth life, it’s certainly not implausible. What’s more, there’s still very much about Earth’s twisted sister that we don’t understand.
We know that there are bacteria living in Earth’s clouds. They’re tolerant little beasts too, living in dry conditions, surviving high levels of ultraviolet light and low levels of oxygen. They’re even thought to help clouds to form, particularly in warmer climates.
On Venus, you might think that the potent acid which makes up the clouds may be a hindrance to any kind of Venusian microbes that may live there, but there are extremophile bacteria on Earth that live in similar conditions. One form of bacteria live in caves (the unappealingly named snottites), where they metabolise sulfur and create sulfuric acid. These bacteria create, and thrive in, acid as strong as what you might find in a car battery.
One scientist who’s given a lot of thought to life in unusual environments is Dirk Schulze-Makuch, currently at Washington State University. Something which he and his colleagues were interested by is the fact that the clouds of Venus seem to absorb more ultraviolet light than they should.
Being about 42 million kilometers (26 million miles) closer to the sun than Earth, the upper atmosphere of Venus is bombarded by enough ultraviolet to give lethal sunburn to anything without adequate protection. However, one idea is that molecular rings of sulfur could be giving something just that kind of protection.
Sulfur is plentiful in the atmosphere of Venus, and in its elemental form it likes to make molecules, each containing 8 sulfur atoms. Known as cyclo-octasulfur, these molecules absorb harmful UV and radiate it away at less harmful wavelengths. Could we be seeing sulfur sunblock? Perhaps, but then again perhaps not. Either way, whatever it is which is absorbing all that UV still hasn’t been conclusively identified.
Chemically, there’s definitely some mystery lurking in those beautiful clouds. Certain molecules are found there which shouldn’t be found together. Two in particular, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) shouldn’t be found together — when in the same place, they react with each other. The only conclusion is that, somehow, something on Venus must be creating them, otherwise there’d be none for us to see.
Another unexpected chemical in Venus’ atmosphere is known as carbonyl sulfide (OCS). On Earth, carbonyl sulfide is so difficult to create through inorganic processes that it’s been used as an “unambiguous indicator of biological activity“.
There’s one final piece in this bizarre acidic puzzle. The so-called “mode 3 cloud particles.” The clouds of Venus, much like the clouds on any other planet, are a menagerie of tiny droplets and ice crystals made up of the various chemicals found in the atmosphere. These cloud particles are normally fairly easy to identify, but the mode 3 particles are still a mystery.
They’re large, non-spherical, and they contain plenty of sulfuric acid. While it would be ridiculous to make any wild claims, it’s worth considering that those cloud particles are even the same size as bacteria — a notion that David Grinspoon, curator of astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, discussed in his book, Venus Revealed.
Of course, I’m not saying that there actually is life in the vitriolic Venusian clouds. There’s no way anyone could say that for certain, and there are still a lot of criticisms of the idea. The biggest sticking point being the lack of water — while there is some water in those clouds, it’s certainly scarce. All the same, there is something going on on that planet that Venus isn’t telling us. And it doesn’t seem like it’s going to give up its mysteries just yet.
Most people aren’t too keen on the idea that Earth’s “evil twin” may actually be a home to life, but you have to admit that all the evidence I’ve written about here gives some compelling food for thought. Venus is normally dismissed immediately when talking about alien life. Perhaps we shouldn’t give up on the big acid ball just yet.
via DNews

‘Sail Rover’ Could Explore Hellish Venus
A windsailing rover could use the high speeds and hot temperatures of Venus to a robotic explorer’s advantage, according to an idea funded by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program.
The rover would not only be able to move around Venus, but would also have electronics inside able to withstand the temperatures of 450 degrees Celsius (840 degrees Fahrenheit).
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It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.
Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.

Never mind the economic deficit. What about the environmental one? Today is Earth Overshoot Day, when we’ve consumed more natural resources than our biosphere can replace over a year @ Guardian
All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.
» The Climate Is Set to Change 'Orders of Magnitude' Faster Than at Any Other Time in the Past 65 Million Years


via theatlantic


How much water is on Earth?

The drawings below show various blue spheres representing relative amounts of Earth’s water in comparison to the size of the Earth. Are you surprised that these water spheres look so small? They are only small in relation to the size of the Earth. These images attempt to show three dimensions, so each sphere represents “volume.” Overall, it shows that in comparison to the volume of the globe the amount of water on the planet is very small - and the oceans are only a “thin film” of water on the surface.
Spheres representing all of Earth’s water, Earth’s liquid fresh water, and water in lakes and rivers
The largest sphere represents all of Earth’s water, and its diameter is about 860 miles (the distance from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Topeka, Kansas). It would have a volume of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3) (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers (km3)). The sphere includes all the water in the oceans, ice caps, lakes, and rivers, as well as groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in you, your dog, and your tomato plant.
Liquid fresh water
How much of the total water is fresh water, which people and many other life forms need to survive? The blue sphere over Kentucky represents the world’s liquid fresh water (groundwater, lakes, swamp water, and rivers). The volume comes to about 2,551,100 mi3 (10,633,450 km3), of which 99 percent is groundwater, much of which is not accessible to humans. The diameter of this sphere is about 169.5 miles (272.8 kilometers).
Water in lakes and rivers
Do you notice that “tiny” bubble over Atlanta, Georgia? That one represents fresh water in all the lakes and rivers on the planet, and most of the water people and life of earth need every day comes from these surface-water sources. The volume of this sphere is about 22,339 mi3 (93,113 km3). The diameter of this sphere is about 34.9 miles (56.2 kilometers). Yes, Lake Michigan looks way bigger than this sphere, but you have to try to imagine a bubble almost 35 miles high—whereas the average depth of Lake Michigan is less than 300 feet (91 meters).
The data used on this page comes from Igor Shiklomanov’s estimate of global water distribution, shown in a table below.
Credit: Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (©); Adam Nieman. Data source: Igor Shiklomanov’s chapter “World fresh water resources” in Peter H. Gleick (editor), 1993, Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World’s Fresh Water Resources (Oxford University Press, New York).

If the big bubble burst:
If you put a (big) pin to the larger bubble showing total water, the resulting flow would cover the contiguous United States (lower 48 states) to a depth of about 107 miles.

We as a culture are forgetting that we are actually natural organisms and that we have this very, very deep connection and contact with nature. You can’t divorce civilization from nature - we totally depend on it.

—James Balog (via floatingmemories)

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, 2000 - 2010.
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