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Is life on ‘scorching wasteland’ Venus possible? Scientists say maybe there once was

By Natasha O’Neill, Writer

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    Toronto, Ontario (CTV Network) — It’s possible that once —billions of years ago— Venus had life on it.

The rocky planet is a “scorching wasteland” according to scientists, but long ago a shift in its tectonic plates could have led it to sustain life, a new study suggests.

Research published in Nature Astronomy on Oct. 26 reveals how the movement of Venus’ tectonic plates was similar to Earth’s.

This, according to the study, “sets up tantalizing scenarios regarding the possibility of early life on Venus.”

Scientists led by Brown University researchers used atmospheric data from Venus and computer modelling to show the current planet’s surface and atmospheric pressure could have only been possible from early tectonic movement.

The study says tectonic movement is a process “critical to life.”

Earth’s tectonic plate shift led to the formation of new continents and mountains, which stabilized the surface temperature allowing life to flourish, the study says.

“Venus, on the other hand, Earth’s nearest neighbour and sister planet, went in the opposite direction and today has surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead,” the press release reads.

However, the study suggests Venus could have gone a similar way to Earth at one point.

There is an “abundance” of nitrogen and carbon in Venus’ atmosphere, which researchers conclude happened after the planet was formed and after tectonic plates shifted.

Scientists estimate this happened about 4.5 to 3.5 billion years ago at the same time Earth’s plates shifted.

“One of the big picture takeaways is that we very likely had two planets at the same time in the same solar system operating in a plate tectonic regime — the same mode of tectonics that allowed for the life that we see on Earth today,” Matt Weller, the study’s lead author, said.

This discovery “bolsters” the possibility that microbial life once existed on Venus and further showcases how similar Earth — in volume, mass, density, size and now tectonic plates — is to the planet.

Despite the discovery, scientists are now left with another question: What happened to the plate tectonics on Venus that caused it to turn into an uninhabitable planet for humans?

Researchers suggest the planet became too hot and its atmosphere too “thick” drying up the ingredients needed for tectonic movement.

In other words, according to Daniel Ibarra, a professor in Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences and co-author on the paper, Venus “ran out of juice.”

The study also raises questions about Earth’s tectonic plates and the conditions that could lead it on a “Venus-like trajectory” or stay habitable.

“The work also highlights the possibility that plate tectonics on planets might just come down to timing — and therefore, so may life itself,” the study reads.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - Regional

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