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Scientists Say Life on Venus Is Unlikely, but Jupiter Shows Promise

The methods used to make the discovery will also help to search for life outside our solar system.

Scientists analyzed the relative water availability of the planets in our solar system, and there's good news and bad news.

The bad news first: Venus is so water-deprived that even the most drought-resistant of Earth microbes wouldn't stand a chance of surviving in its atmosphere. The good news is that the study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, suggests there is still hope for finding microbial life on Jupiter given the water content of its clouds.

The findings come just as the scientific community was getting excited about the prospect of finding life on Venus. In 2020, researchers detected large amounts of the molecule phosphine in the clouds of Venus, a compound that's associated with life on Earth — many believe it could only be present on Venus as a waste product of living microorganisms.

NASA administrator at the time, Jim Bridenstine, stated on Twitter that the discovery was "the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth ... It’s time to prioritize Venus."

Indeed, just last month, NASA announced that it would send two separate missions to study Venus, our closest planetary neighbor, 30 years after its last mission to the planet. 

Chances of life on Venus close to zero

Unfortunately, the new study, which analyzed data from probes that flew through the clouds of Venus, shows that the planet's relative water availability is likely too large an obstacle for life to exist on the planet.

"When we looked at the effective concentration of water molecules in those clouds, we found that it was a hundred times too low for even the most resilient Earth organisms to survive." John Hallsworth, a microbiologist at Queen's University in Belfast, U.K., and lead author of the paper, said in a news conference on Thursday (June 24), via Space.com. "That's an unbridgeable distance."

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Hallsworth continued by saying that microorganisms would simply be "unable to proliferate" without being hydrated and that Venus's low water availability left practically zero chance of finding life on the planet.

However, the researchers did also look at data from other planets in the solar system and discovered that the clouds of Jupiter do have the required water activity to, in theory, support life.

Analyzing data collected by the Galileo mission at altitudes between 26 and 42 miles (42 and 68 kilometers) above the gas giant's surface, the researchers found that a layer of the planet's clouds does meet the water requirements for life.

While this doesn't provide any evidence that there is life on Jupiter, it does mean that the chances of finding it there are slightly higher than the, sadly, negligible chances of finding life on Venus, following the latest analysis.

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The researchers say their techniques could also help in the search for habitable exoplanets in other star systems. So, though the probability of finding existing life in our solar system may have taken a severe knock, the research that went into making that discovery could aid us in finally discovering life elsewhere in the cosmos.

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