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VIRTUAL GSL Public Lecture: Mysteries in the clouds of Venus

17 November 2021
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Mysteries in the Clouds of Venus

Although Venus is Earth-like in mass and size, a runaway greenhouse effect has rendered the surface so hot it can melt metals. Back in the 1960's, Carl Sagan was one of the first to suggest that the high-altitude clouds might have offered a refuge for microbial life that fled the surface catastrophes. However, the clouds offer challenges in dryness and acidity beyond anything seen on Earth. Last year, our team discovered a 'biosignature' molecule - phosphine (PH3) - in Venus' high atmosphere. Although phosphine is a biosignature from harsh habitats on Earth, it is still unknown whether this is the case for Venus. I will discuss two rival models - floating organisms adapted to an incredible habitat, and super-volcanoes erupting unseen below the obscuring clouds. Either explanation will provide vital insights to interpreting remote observations of distant worlds, beyond our own solar system. 


Professor Jane Greaves, Cardiff University

Jane Greaves is a Professor at Cardiff University. Since her PhD at University of London, she has pursued questions of where stars, planets and life come from, mainly through radio-astronomy observations, and was awarded the Fred Hoyle Medal of the Institute of Physics for this work in 2017. Her career has taken her to the very special culture of Hawaii, as well as posts in England, Scotland and Wales.  


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