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New research suggests life may exist in Venus' clouds

The search for extraterrestrial life has reached new heights.

The atmosphere of Venus could be home to microbial life, new research published in the journal Astrobiology last week found. Researchers laid out the case for possible life in the clouds, a decades-old theory that stems from the potential for bacteria growth in sulfuric acid patches that can be seen in the planet's atmosphere, along with favorable temperature conditions.

Microorganisms could bloom in Venus' clouds in the same way that algae grow on Earth, scientists say. Some research suggests that Venus once had liquid water on its surface, and that the planet may have been more hospitable to life than Earth for some 2 billion years. While the planet's water and mild climate are long gone now, some kinds of bacteria could still be surviving up in the clouds, fluctuating as the atmosphere circulates, the study explained.

The sulfuric patches in the cloud layers contain particles that are similar in shape and size to some bacteria on Earth, the study found, but without more research it's impossible to tell whether the particles are made of organic materials.

In response, scientists called for more research in planetary atmospheres, a less-frequently discussed area of astrobiology compared to examinations of surface-level features such as the frozen rivers beneath the surface of Mars. "To really know, we need to go there and sample the clouds," Rakesh Mogul, a co-author of the new research told Phys.org. "Venus could be an exciting new chapter in astrobiology exploration."