Astronomers Find Possible Hints Of Life On Venus

Traces of a rare molecule known as phosphine have been found in the hellish and strongly acidic atmosphere of Venus, astronomers said Monday – providing a tantalizing clue to the possibility of life.

Venus is the most brilliant object in the night sky after the moon and has intrigued humans for thousands of years. The discovery of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus has just made the planet even more attractive.

The researchers are not claiming that life has been detected on the second planet from the sun. But observations at least suggest the possibility of microbial activity in the upper layers of Venus’ atmosphere.

“We have detected a rare gas called phosphine in the atmosphere of our neighbor planet Venus,” said Jane Greaves, a professor at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom and lead author of a report published in Nature Astronomy. “And the reason for our excitement is that phosphine gas on Earth is made by microorganisms that live in oxygen-free environments. And so there is a chance that we have detected some kind of living organism in the clouds of Venus.”

“[That abundance] suggests organisms – if working how they do on Earth​ – could be a sufficient source. They could only be at 10 percent of the peak efficiency in producing phosphine that we see from Earth organisms, and they would produce the abundance we see on Venus.”

The discovery is so amazing because phosphine is not expected to be present in the atmosphere of Venus. Phosphine needs a lot of hydrogen and the right temperatures and pressures to form – conditions found on Jupiter and Saturn but not at all on Venus.

The team detected the unique spectral signature of phosphine using two different instruments at different times: the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in 2017 and the Atacama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array in 2019.

Scientists also struggled to figure out how other types of chemical reactions could produce phosphine in Venus, and ambiguity led Greaves and her team to conclude that the discovery could point to “aerial” life forms suspended in the atmosphere.

Alan Duffy, an astronomer from Swinburne University and Lead Scientist of The Royal Institution of Australia, said it was “one of the most exciting signs of the possible presence of life beyond Earth I have ever seen”.

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