Life on Venus (The Unknown Absorber)

Venus loves keeping secrets. One of the biggest, most frustrating secrets has to do with the planet’s upper atmosphere. Something is absorbing ultraviolet light, and no one can figure out what.

Mr05 Ultraviolet Mystery

A Scientific Explanation

Specific atoms and molecules absorb specific wavelengths of light, producing what’s called an absorption spectrum. Given the prevalence of sulfur compounds in Venus’s atmosphere, it seems like a safe bet that some kind of sulfur containing compound is responsible for this mysterious ultraviolet absorption.

But the absorption spectrum doesn’t match with sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid, or any other sulfur-based chemical thus far identified on Venus. After decades of observation and research, scientists can’t reach any consensus on what the heck is going on.

A Sci-Fi Explanation

Chlorophyll is a pretty important (and pretty complicated) chemical here on Earth. It’s what makes photosynthesis possible in plants, and therefore it’s what makes life as we know it possible. And it just so happens that chlorophyll’s strongest absorption lines are in the blue part of the spectrum, not far from ultraviolet. Could Venus’s unknown absorber be a sulfur-based, chlorophyll-like chemical?

In other words, could there be something alive on Venus? Could there be some kind of alien algae drifting about in Venus’s sky? Venus’s atmosphere contains a rich mixture of chemicals, including carbon dioxide and water vapor.

Even those thick, fluffy clouds of sulfuric acid might not be dangerous to creatures that evolved to live there. Who knows? Maybe sulfuric acid is highly nutritious if you have the right biochemistry.

And if these cloud algae phosphoresce, as some species of algae do on Earth, that might explain the mystery of Venus’s ashen light.

Final Thoughts

I’m presenting these cloud algae as science fiction, but many well-respected scientists have speculated about this possibility. Even so, this idea is a bit farfetched. Odds are sulfur-based life on Venus is completely impossible.

Mr05 Cloud Algae

Links

Does Alien Life Thrive in Venus’s Mysterious Clouds from Discovery News.

Could There Be Life on Venus? from Venus Dispatches.

Solar System Bodies: Venus from NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection.

Recommended Reading

Venus Revealed: A New Look Below the Clouds of Our Mysterious Twin Planet by David Grinspoon.

7 Responses to Life on Venus (The Unknown Absorber)

  1. Spacerguy says:

    Excellent post James, theres so much life in the universe. There could well be something alive on Venus if your cloud theory is correct. It is possible the speed of light, sound or gravity isn’t the constant for life as we know it to be here on earth. Imagine, sentient cloud lifeforms living off sulphuric acid. If thats their staple diet, i wonder what they have for dessert? LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Archer says:

    Love this! Your illustrations add just the right touch, too. Looking forward to reading more of your posts, James. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] ago, we talked about the remote possibility that sulfur-based microorganisms could exist in the soupy atmosphere of Venus. I suppose a similar biochemistry could be possible on Io. It’s a stretch, but at least some […]

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  4. […] III require only minimal precautions. Nobody cares if we contaminate Venus. Nothing lives on Venus (probably). Category VI covers missions on the surfaces of worlds that could theoretically support life, and […]

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  5. […] III require only minimal precautions. Nobody cares if we contaminate Venus. Nothing lives on Venus (probably). Category VI covers missions on the surfaces of worlds that could theoretically support life, and […]

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