The Cloud Deck of Venus and Life? (Mostly Technical)

Life on the planet Venus had all but been ruled out in the 1960s and 1970s with the landings of the Soviet era, Venera probes. However at the current juncture, the debate of whether life exists within the cloud deck of our nearest planetary neighbor has come into discussion. The reasons are many and intriguing, as well. Venus has been a part of myth and superstition for probably as long as we could stare with wonder at the sky.

Fig. 1 Surface of Venus as viewed from Venera 9/10 (see Source for more images and details)

Fig. 1 Surface of Venus as viewed from Venera 9/10 (see Source for more images and details)

Author/curator: Dr. Edwin V. Bell, II  NSSDC, Mail Code 690.1, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771

Surface photographs from the Soviet Venera 9 and 10 spacecraft. The Soviet Venera 9 and 10 spacecraft were launched on 8 and 14 June 1975, respectively, to do the unprecedented: place a lander on the surface of Venus and return images. The two spacecraft successfully landed a descent craft on 16 and 23 October 1975. These images were obtained on 22 and 25 October 1975. Venera 9 landed on a slope inclined by about 30 degrees to the horizontal whereas Venera 10 was only inclined about 8 degrees. The two spacecraft were separated by about 2100 km. Most of the rocks in the images are between about 0.3 and 1 meter.

Despite human nature’s propensity to rule out and away from precision, accuracy, and intellectual creativity, the rocket age has ushered an understanding which humanity can ponder. The discovery of the Venusian cloud dynamics brought more questions than answers. Thus a paradigm of energy disequilibrium forces the question—could “life” exist within the clouds of Venus? Why energy disequilibrium? As best as I can describe the notions of life and energy—life on Earth is present primarily in settings of flux (or changes within the terrestrial dynamics). In the case of energy, our planet affords life because there are always seasons, oxygen, water/ice, the proper temperature, or lack of non-change. Put as simply as possible, life evolves and changes in response to our actions upon the environment and its responses. Life (on Earth) is synergistic—life needs a dynamic place in which to thrive. And, the dynamism also must conducive—thus life is synergistic.

Now, what of the Venusian cloud deck? In 2008, investigators using data from the Venus Express probe (ESA) published interesting results which confirmed that temperature variations existed within the cloud deck of Venus. The tops and temperatures within the Venusian atmosphere varied because of a mixture of different substances in the atmosphere.

The previous two previous paragraphs may be condensed in the following manner—the investigators found a reasons to further question Venusian atmospheric dynamics

From the source at ESA— Shortcut URL:

03 Dec 2008

“A recent study combining data collected with the VMC and the VIRTIS instruments on board Venus Express has shed light on the atmospheric conditions that give rise to the presence and distribution of the as-yet-unidentified UV absorbers. These absorbers are responsible for the characteristic dark features in the UV images of Venus’ cloud deck. Dmitry Titov and colleagues, reporting in the 4 December issue of Nature, have found that it is mainly the temperature and atmospheric dynamics that drive the global pattern of the UV markings. They also determined variations of the cloud top altitude over the Venus globe.”

Authors: Titov, D.V. et al. Nature Volume: 456 Issue: 7222 Page: 620-623 Year: 2008 (Copyright: Nature Publishing Group)

A picture may be worth a thousand words or more,

Fig. 2  Venus-global_UV-IR Shortcut URL: Date: 04 Dec 2008

Fig. 2 Venus-global_UV-IR
Shortcut URL:
Date: 04 Dec 2008

Short URL:

Source: ESA, Venus Express

Depicts: Composite view of Venus in infrared and ultraviolet


Also From the Source:

False-colour composite view of Venus’s southern hemisphere in the infrared (red: VIRTIS, 5 μm) and ultraviolet (purple: VMC, 0.365 μm). Brightness in the VIRTIS data tracks the cloud top temperature. The VMC UV data reveals the distribution of the unknown UV absorber at the cloud tops.

The oval feature in the polar region is the eye of the south polar vortex – a dynamical structure about 2000 km in size which is ~30 K warmer than its surroundings. The vortex eye is displaced from the south pole by about 1000 km, has an irregular and strongly variable shape, and rotates around the pole in ~2.5 days. The atmosphere rotates counter-clockwise in this view. Last Update: 03 Dec 2008

What can be said—or readily surmised? (Non-technically speaking)

Despite the so-called “jargon” of previous paragraphs, significant emphasis may be placed on the finding of an active atmosphere. Venusian atmosphere interests astrobiologists for the following reasons:

  • Clouds on Venus possess “habitable” temperatures that “may or could” support life that thrive  hot-spring like environments
  • Water is next to non-existent within the cloud deck—however any or all water is bound into Sulfuric acid so any type of life is or may be analogous extremophiles
  • The cloud deck of Venus is known to have lightning and is also warm—possibly conditions similar to early Earth (think of the experiments of Stanley Miller/Harold Urey)
  • Although no “traces” of common bio-organic molecules are known, the chemistry of sulfur is prevalent in the cloud deck. In fact, it may be surmised that there is an active, unexplored chemical cycle that utilizes sulfur.

Where does that leave us . . .?

There are serious discussions in place for a Venusian flagship probe that delve into climatology, Venusian chemical cycles and other important Earth-related cycles. This probe is in the planning stages and it would be launched in the 2020s. The question of Venusian life(?), although nearly impossible for the surface, is an intriguing and important question for life’s origins.

References: (some found via Google?)

Cosmic Biology: How Life Could Evolve on Other Worlds

By Louis Neal. Irwin, Dirk Schulze-Makuc

ISBN: 1441916466

ISBN-13: 9781441916464

Edition: 1

Pub. Date: January 2011

Publisher: Springer-Verlag New York, LLC


A layer of ozone detected in the nightside upper atmosphere of Venus

Icarus 216 (2011) 82–85

F. Montmessin and others




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