08:51 GMT09 August 2020
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    Theories about the possible habitability of Earth’s closest neighbours go back to the dawn of the space age, with scientists creating increasingly complex instruments to try to confirm beyond a doubt whether such life exists in the years since.

    Researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute have completed simulations of the Venetian atmosphere’s conduciveness to sustaining life, discovering that micromycetes (a type of microscopic fungi) can survive and thrive in Venus-like atmospheric conditions, where high levels of radiation and sharp jumps in temperature are the norm. Specifically, laboratory testing found that high doses of ionizing radiation do not lead to the fungi’s demise.

    Scientists conducted their experiments on the basis of long-held scientific theories that microorganisms associated with mineral particles may be present in the upper layers of Venus’s atmosphere.

    Computer Simulated Global View of Venus
    © NASA .
    Computer Simulated Global View of Venus

    The researchers also performed research involving microorganisms found in the Arctic to simulate conditions on the surface of Mars – subjecting them to radiation and temperatures of -50 degrees Celsius. Here too, scientists found that the bacteria proved quite adaptable to survival.

    Additionally, the Russian scientists studied soil bacteria present in the Mojave Desert, considered by many academics to be a terrestrial analogue to the kinds of microbial communities that may be found on Mars. The research showed that these micororganisms are highly resistant to a range of stress factors, such as cultivation temperature, pH levels, and the presence of salts and strong oxidizing agents.

    image from NASA Mars rover Opportunity of the Martian surface (NASA)
    © NASA . NASA
    image from NASA Mars rover Opportunity of the Martian surface (NASA)

    Continuing their experiments, researchers also tested whether microorganisms could survive in the kinds of conditions found on Europa, the Jovian moon known to feature a water-ice crust. Creating the necessary conditions, including irradiating bacteria embedded in ice at a temperature of -130 degrees Celsius, scientists found that the bacteria could thrive in the moon’s harsh environment, theoretically being able to survive at depths of 10-100 cm over a period of 1,000-10,000 years after being released in the waters from the Moon’s subglacial oceans.

    Jupiter's moon Europa
    © NASA . JPL
    Jupiter's moon Europa

    The institute’s findings were revealed in its latest annual report on its scientific and research activities.

    The Space Research Institute, tasked with robotic space research, exploration and laboratory work to complement Russia’s manned space programme, is one of the country’s most prestigious and decorated space-science-related insititutions, taking part in multiple ongoing Roscosmos, European Space Agency and NASA missions on the study of the solar system, and having a proud history going back to Soviet-era probes of Venus and Mars such as the Vega and Phobos programmes.

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