10/09/2020

Solar System Smackdown: Mars Vs. Venus

29:20 minutes

an illustration of the planets mars and venus, anthropomorphized with sneering faces and arms raised with blue boxing gloves on, floating on a black space with white dot stars background. the words "mars vs venus" are written between them
Illustration by Elah Feder

One of the fiercest hunts in the solar system is the scientific search for signs of extraterrestrial life—whether that’s in a methane ocean on Titan, under the icy crusts of Europa or Enceladus, in newly discovered subsurface salty lakes of Mars or, in the case of hypothetical long-dead fossils, in the rocks of ancient Martian river deltas.

But just as the next Mars rover—equipped with life-sensing instruments of all kinds—is barreling toward the Red Planet for a February landing, comes news from another planet. A research team writing in Nature in September say they’ve found high concentrations of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. That much phosphine is not known to exist without help from bacteria—and researchers dating all the way back to Carl Sagan have suggested that the thick, acidic clouds of Venus would be a plausible place to harbor microscopic, extreme-loving life.

Is this a good reason to send more missions to Venus? Or is Mars still the best candidate for investment of finite resources? Science Friday producers Katie Feather and Christie Taylor host this completely made-up argument about which planet is the best bet for finding life, with help from genetics and astrobiology researcher Jaime Cordova, and planetary scientist Briony Horgan.

Watch these fierce competitors face off in front of a live Zoom audience!

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Segment Guests

Jaime Cordova

Jaime Cordova is a PhD candidate studying genetics and astrobiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wisconsin.

Briony Horgan

Briony Horgan is an associate professor of Planetary Science at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Segment Transcript

The transcript for this segment is being processed. It will be posted within one week after the episode airs.

Meet the Producers and Host

About Katie Feather

Katie Feather is an associate producer for Science Friday and the proud mother of two cats, Charleigh and Sadie.

About Christie Taylor

Christie Taylor is a producer for Science Friday. Her day involves diligent research, too many phone calls for an introvert, and asking scientists if they have any audio of that narwhal heartbeat.

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