We are proud that our article about a Venus astrobiology mission, based on a fleet of balloons has now been published in the prestigious journal Astrophysical Journal Letters. The article can also be downloaded for free via arXiv.
We are grateful for the collaboration with Manasvi Lingam (Florida Institute of Technology / Harvard), without whose help this article would not have been possible.
The potential detection of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus has reignited interest in the possibility of life aloft in this environment. If the cloud decks of Venus are indeed an abode of life, it should reside in the "habitable zone" between ~50–60 km altitude, roughly coincident with the middle cloud deck, where the temperature and pressure (but not the atmospheric composition) are similar to conditions at the Earth's surface. We map out a precursor astrobiological mission to search for such putative lifeforms in situ with instrument balloons, which could be delivered to Venus via launch opportunities in 2022–2023. This mission would collect aerosol and dust samples by means of small balloons floating in the Venusian cloud deck and directly scrutinize whether they include any apparent biological materials and, if so, their shapes, sizes, and motility. Our balloon mission would also be equipped with a miniature mass spectrometer that should permit the detection of complex organic molecules. The mission is augmented by contextual cameras to search for macroscopic signatures of life in the Venusian atmospheric habitable zone. Finally, mass and power constraints permitting, radio interferometric determinations of the motion of the balloons in Venusian winds, together with in situ temperature and pressure measurements, will provide valuable insights into the poorly understood meteorology of the middle cloud region.