On Monday, 14 September the world woke to news that scientists have found strong evidence of life on Venus. The new study was published in the journal Nature Astronomy, which revealed the atmosphere of Venus is home to flammable, smelly gas which is associated with life on Earth.
The study, which has been named “Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus” details the discovery of large amounts of gas called ‘phosphine’ around 48 kilometres up in Venus’s atmosphere. Phosphine is considered by many as a potential biosignature for life, and could be seen as evidence of life on this planet. This is because phosphine is produced almost exclusively by anaerobic microorganisms, which are creatures that thrive in oxygen-free environments, according to Gizmodo.
Phosphine is to Venus as methane is to Mars? 20 parts-per-billion of phosphine have been detected in the temperate clouds of Venus, and its source is not evident. Greaves et al.: https://t.co/3YxE04q9sw
— Nature Astronomy (@NatureAstronomy) September 14, 2020
While phosphine is indeed associated with life on Earth, it can also be found in certain parts of our solar system on Gas Giants like Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, not on rocky planets like Mars or Venus. This is because it would be quickly destroyed in the atmosphere. For this very reason, researchers note that the newly discovered phosphine gas ‘meets most criteria for a biosignature-gas search.’ This isn’t however enough evidence to definitively announce the discovery of life.
While this news is indeed quite exciting, the authors of the study are by no means claiming that phosphine is evidence of advanced life on Venus. Instead, the authors suggest that the phosphine is an indication of a biosignature is being produced by unknown chemical processes. The next step is to find an answer to what exactly is producing the phosphine.
According to Dimitar Sasselov, director of the Origins of Life Institute at Harvard University, who spoke with Gizmodo, “I am with the authors on this one: namely, this is not evidence for life on Venus. Rather it is evidence for some exotic chemistry going on. I am a big supporter of further exploration of Venus—our exotic planetary neighbor has been neglected for too long.”
After the study had been published, NASA weighed in on the matter, going on to state that it was not associated with the work that went into the study, and could not comment on the findings. NASA did however mention that the study was published to a notable scientific journal.
“NASA was not involved in the research and cannot comment directly on the findings; however, we trust in the scientific peer review process and look forward to the robust discussion that will follow its publication,” NASA said in a statement.
Click here to read the full study.
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