Venus is often the subject of stories about Venusians and extraterrestrial life. However, the idea of life on Venus seems crazy. After all, temperatures on the surface of the second planet from the sun can melt lead at 880 degrees Fahrenheit.
Nevertheless, scientists have just announced they’ve detected a possible sign of alien life on the planet. How is this even possible in a world so inhospitable? Now, they think that extraterrestrial life could be living in the sulfuric clouds of our closest planetary neighbor.
A Plausible Sign of Life?
According to Reuters, the scientists found rare phosphine gas, which could be produced by microbes in low-oxygen conditions. The lead researcher was “stunned” by the unexpected finding.
“The researchers did not discover actual life forms but noted that on Earth, phosphine is produced by bacteria thriving in oxygen-starved environments. The international scientific team first spotted the phosphine using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and confirmed it using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile,” reported Reuters.
A study co-author, alien astrophysicist Clara Sousa-Silva, suggested that life was a plausible possibility.
“With what we currently know of Venus, the most plausible explanation for phosphine, as fantastical as it might sound, is life,” said Sousa-Silva.
Below, see astronomer David Kipping discuss the exciting discovery.
A Stinky Pyramid from Venus
In an earlier article by Sousa-Silva, she pointed out that phosphine is also unusually smelly but her favorite molecule nonetheless.
The pyramid-shaped molecule of phosphorous and three hydrogen atoms is created by microbes and is noxious to most lifeforms on Earth. She was considering looking for phosphine on other worlds but never thought she’d find it next door on Venus.
“I love phosphine, but I would never want to be in a room with it,” Sousa-Silva said. “It is extremely toxic. Very few people have smelled it and lived.”
She elaborated on phosphine, which she could only imagine would one day be found on another planet at the time.
“One day, we might detect phosphine in one of these atmospheres. These would not be fun places for us; frankly, we might find them disgusting. On the other hand, the residents of these planets would probably find us disgusting too (a problem for interplanetary diplomacy to overcome). Nonetheless, if we find phosphine on a rocky planet in the habitable zone, where it has no false positives, we will have found life,” she wrote.
Why is the Gas Constantly Replenished?
Did the researchers find life? Well, they might have. On the other hand, it could indicate that some unknown process produced the phosphine. Interestingly, the study shows that the gas appears to be constantly replenished. But why? They aren’t yet sure.
Scientists know the smelly gas exists on Jupiter and Saturn but don’t suspect it was created by life. There, tremendous pressures and temperatures inside the gas giants created the gas.
Meanwhile, on Earth, phosphine is found in anaerobic conditions inside sewage plants, marshlands, and strangely, the intestinal tracts of fish and human babies.
Although it sounds incredible that Venus could harbor life, the idea has been around for decades. In the 60s, scientists suspected that Venus’ upper atmosphere could harbor life. Today, it appears they might have been onto something after all.
So, what comes next? The scientists say it could take years to find out conclusively if there is life on Venus. Currently, two NASA missions to the planet are under review and seem more likely given the exciting findings.
See more from Clara Sousa-Silver about the findings from the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology (MIT):
Featured image: Screenshots via YouTube