Scientists spot phosphine as a potential sign of life on Venus

A composite image of the planet Venus

An international team of astronomers confirmed the highly intriguing presence of the chemical phosphine near the harshly acidic clouds of Venus.

The researchers were skeptical about whether it's a direct sign of life or not. On Earth, phosphine is produced by bacteria thriving in oxygen-starved environments and through industrial processes.

The researchers said they know of no non-biological explanation for the relatively high abundance of the molecule in the Venusian atmosphere.

Sayings of the Scientists

“I should emphasize that life as an explanation for our discovery, should be, as always, the last resort. If it is phosphine and if it's life, it means we're not alone”, said Massachusetts Institute of Technology molecular astrophysicist Clara Sousa-Silva.

Venus is Earth's closes planetary neighbor. Similar in structure but slightly smaller than Earth, it's the second planet from the sun. There are layers of the atmosphere where the conditions are moderate and solar radiations are not too intense.

For decades, researchers have speculated that Venus could have had life on its surface before a runaway greenhouse effect left the planet uninhabitable.

Astronomer Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Wales suspected the presence of microbes as ambiguous. The survival of Venus is torrid due to extreme acidity in the clouds that could harbor aerial microbes.

Living things can create phosphine through a metabolic pathway not fully understood, Sousa-Silva said. And extreme forces in nature can make the molecule. For example, phosphine has been detected in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, the solar system's two gas giants, where gravity created extreme environments.

Astrophysicist Anita Richards said that something must be creating the phosphine on Venus as fast as it is being destroyed.

While spacecraft have raided Venus before, a new probe may be needed to confirm life.

Any claim of detection of life beyond Earth carries with it a heavy burden of proof. The search for extraterrestrial life has had a long history of thrilling hypotheses. To date, no alien life has been found- anywhere.

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