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Venus May Have Once Been Habitable, Says NASA Scientists

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Venus could have supported some kind of life for up to 2 billion years, according to a soon to be published study co-authored by NASA scientists.

Scientists with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University found life could have developed on Venus since it has similar features as Earth. Venus is a similar size, mass and location in the solar system as Earth is — even though its average surface temperature is 864 degrees Fahrenheit. Venus’ temperature hasn’t always been that high however, so life could have developed early in its geological history.

“At its current rotation period of 243 days, Venus’s climate could have remained habitable until at least 715 million years ago if it hosted a shallow primordial ocean,” the authors of the study wrote in their abstract. “These results demonstrate the vital role that rotation and topography play in understanding the climatic history of exoplanetary Venus-like worlds being discovered in the present epoch.”

Researchers used computer simulations to determine when Venus may have been able to sustain life. The simulations showed Venus could have had ancient oceans and half the planet was likely covered by water for most of its history. Researchers said much of Venus had an average surface temperature of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit for much of its history.

At one point, Venus was in the Sun’s “Goldilocks Zone” (the region around a star which has just the right conditions for liquid water on a planet’s surface) for much of its history.

A team of astronomers from the University of Liège in Belgium found three potentially habitable planets in the “Goldilocks Zone,” relatively close to Earth which are “currently the best place to search for life beyond the solar system,” according to a study published online in May.  The three new worlds are only 39.13 light-years, or 12 parsecs, away in the Aquarius constellation.

Astronomers plan to search these planets for signs of life by studying the effect the atmospheres of the planets have on the light reaching Earth. For Earth-sized planets orbiting most stars this tiny effect is usually swamped starlight, but the TRAPPIST 1 is a red ultra-cool dwarf stars, which isn’t bright enough to block out the effect.

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has found roughly 550 of the new rocky exoplanets which could be like Earth based on their size. Nine of these exoplanets orbit in their stars’ “Goldilocks Zones.”

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