Scientists on Earth have uncovered traces of what could be life high in Venus’s poisonous atmosphere.
If indeed the finding is verified by subsequent telescopic studies and prospective satellite launches, it might draw scientists’ attention to one of the nighttime sky’s brightest objects. Venus, named just after Roman god of beauty, burns at hundreds of degrees and is shrouded in clouds containing caustic sulfuric acid particles. Few have considered the rocky planet as a possible home for life.
Meanwhile, researchers have been looking for indications of living somewhere else for years, mostly on Mars and, more lately, on Europa, Enceladus, and other icy moons of the large planets.
The astronomers, who published their findings in a series of publications on Monday, did not gather any samples of Venusian bacteria or take any photographs of them. They have, however, found a molecule — phosphine — in the dense Venus atmosphere using sophisticated telescopes. After lengthy research, the scientists have concluded that the chemical’s source can only be explained by someone or something currently living.
Some scientists disagree with this theory, claiming that the gas may be the consequence of inexplicable climatic or geologic phenomena on an unknown planet. However, the discovery may prompt some planetary scientists to wonder if humanity has ignored a planet that was previously more Earthlike than anyone else in the planetary system.
Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the articles’ authors, described the discovery as “astonishing” and “out of the blue” (one published in Nature Astronomy and another submitted to the journal Astrobiology).
Clara Sousa-Silva, a chemical astrophysicist at Harvard University who studies phosphine and is one of the authors, said, “We understand that it would be an incredible discovery.” “Without travelling back to Venus, we might not even understand how really wonderful it is.”
“There has been a lot of discussion regarding phosphine as just a biosignature gas for exoplanets lately,” said Sarah Stewart Johnson, a planetary scientist and head of the Johnson Biosignatures Lab at Georgetown University who has not been related to the research study. “How exciting to discover it on Venus.”
“NASA is already ignoring Venus for much too long,” she continued. It’s a big pity.”
“That’s also actually pretty interesting!” said David Grinspoon of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., who was not involved in the research but has long advocated for the potential of life in Venus’s clouds.
“But it may be the first discovery we’ve had that suggests an alien biosphere,” he continued, “and, what else do you know, that’s on the closest planet to home in the entire cosmos.”
Earth was not always so welcoming to humans in the early days of its solar system. There’s been life over at the time, even a complete biosphere, but it did not survive in the subsequent oxygen-rich atmosphere. And, just as Earth evolved into a habitat for jellyfish, ferns, dinosaurs, and Homo sapiens through time, Venus was changed it in to a hell by someone or something.
Despite the fact that Venus’s surface is just like a furnace, a cloud system just 31 miles far below peak of all its atmosphere can attain low temperatures as 86 degrees Fahrenheit and also has a density equal with that of Earth’s ground level. Many planetary scientists have speculated that life could exist there, especially Carl Sagan and Harold Morowitz, who presented the concept 53 years ago.