Venus has always been viewed as a planet that does not offer many opportunities for life to flourish. The highly acidic planet is often considered as inhospitable to most known forms of life. However, a recent discovery has scientists excited at possible life forms being discovered on the second planet from the Sun.
Phosphine gas has been observed on Venus. This particular gas is produced by bacteria that thrive in environments that are starved for oxygen. Though the reporting researchers did not directly detect any life forms on the planet, the presence of phosphine gas on Venus is a promising indicator for extraterrestrial life of some kind.
Molecular astrophysicist Clara Sousa-Silva is one of the scientists that worked on the research regarding Venus. “With what we currently know of Venus, the most plausible explanation for phosphine, as fantastical as it might sound, is life,” said Sousa-Silva. This is certainly one of the most enthusiastic responses to the possibility of alien life within our own solar system, let alone the rest of the observed universe.
“I should emphasize that life, as an explanation for our discovery, should be, as always, the last resort,” Sousa-Silva added to her response. “This is important because, if it is phosphine, and if it is life, it means that we are not alone. It also means that life itself must be very common, and there must be many other inhabited planets throughout our galaxy.”
The phosphine gas was observed at 20 parts-per-billion in Venus’s atmosphere. This amount constitutes a trace concentration. Non-biological sources for the gas such as lightning, volcanoes, meteorites, and other different types of chemical reactions were explored. None of these sources were discovered to be where the phosphine gas came from.
The surface temperatures of Venus can reach as high as 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius). That is hot enough to melt lead. Because of this extreme heat, it is believed that no life could survive on the planet’s surface. However, there is a hypothesis that the Venusian high clouds, with milder temperatures around 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), could be home to aerial microbes that could endure extreme acidity.
Sousa-Silva remains excited but logical with this news. “We have done our very best to explain this discovery without the need for a biological process. With our current knowledge of phosphine, and Venus, and geochemistry, we cannot explain the presence of phosphine in the clouds of Venus, Clara Sousa-Silva said. “That doesn’t mean it is life. It just means that some exotic process is producing phosphine, and our understanding of Venus needs work.”
Since Venus is our closest planetary partner, scientists are excited to explore this new discovery and what it will teach us about the potential for interplanetary life. Previous robotic probes have been sent to Venus, but considering the magnitude of this new discovery, a brand new probe might be necessary to send to the planet. “Fortunately, Venus is right next door,” Sousa-Silva said. “So we can literally go and check.”
If there is a new probe mission sent to Venus, we will make sure to report it. We continue to learn new and wondrous things about the universe we live in. This newest discovery has the potential to change our whole understanding of life in the universe. What a time to be alive.