Astronomers detect signs of life in Venus's atmosphere

Pablo Tucker
September 15, 2020

Some joked that while the focus has been always on Mars to find life outside Earth, Venus often ignored stole the limelight in 2020.

"On Earth, phosphine is only associated with life", added Prof.

The presence of phosphine remains "unexplained after exhaustive study", with "no now known abiotic production routes" in Venus's atmosphere, clouds, surface, or subsurface, according to the researchers, led by Jane Greaves, an astronomer at Cardiff University. The findings were published by Cardiff University professor Jane Greaves and her colleagues in a report in Nature Astronomy on Monday.

Artist's impression of Venus and the phosphine (PH3) detected in the atmosphere.

If we gather enough evidence in the future to show it is there, the most pressing question becomes: how similar is it to life on Earth?

The team are now eagerly awaiting more telescope time, for example to establish whether the phosphine is in a relatively temperate part of the clouds, and to look for other gases associated with life. Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Dr William Bains led the work on assessing natural ways to make phosphine.

"Perhaps life originated when Venus was cooler with liquid or water oceans, but as Venus heated up and underwent its catastrophic runaway greenhouse, the oceans evaporated and the surface became so hot that any life would have been killed".

There are bacteria in the clouds on Earth, Seager said, either suspended in water droplets. Scientists believe that Venus long ago may have possessed conditions that could have allowed for living organisms to evolve, though its surface now is considered completely inhospitable to life.

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