As far as we know, Earth is the only planet that supports life in the solar system. However, yesterday, a team of astrophysicists and planetary scientists discovered something interesting in the atmosphere of Venus that could be a sign of extraterrestrial life. According to The New York Times, with the help of telescopes on Earth, they detected a gas named phosphine in Venus’ clouds.
But what exactly does phosphine have to do with alien life?
CNN reports that phosphine on Earth is either found when organic matter breaks down or when bacteria that don’t need oxygen produce it i.e. the source is biological. On Venus, it could be found due to 3 reasons – chemistry (chemical processes), geology (volcanoes, meteorites, lightning etc), or biology (microbes). The study published in the journal Nature Astronomy says that the most plausible explanation of the gas (given the data we have), is life.
Breaking News: Astronomers have found a potential sign of life in the clouds of Venus, a planet long overlooked in the search for extraterrestrial life.https://t.co/UmA0cWxX6M
— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 14, 2020
The study’s co-author Sara Seager was quoted saying, “(One) is that some unknown chemistry is occurring in the Venus atmosphere, surface, or subsurface. We find this explanation tough to accept because (of) Venus’s temperature and pressure range and the fact that Venus has nearly zero hydrogens mean(s) phosphine is not the natural form of the element phosphorus. Instead, phosphorus should be present as phosphates.”
The Indian Express quoted lead author Jane Greaves saying, “If it’s microorganisms, they would have access to some sunlight and water, and maybe live in liquid droplets to stop themselves dehydrating, but they would need some unknown mechanism to protect against corrosion by acid.”
However, some experts are not convinced and say we require much more research before saying for sure that there is alien life on Venus.
We don't currently know of a way to plausibly make this phosphine abiotically. But nature is often cleverer than us. So the odds are we're going to learn something about exotic chemistry, not exobiology. (but, but…. I'll keep an open mind. It's not *impossible*…)
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) September 14, 2020
While todays announcement is super exciting, I think it's really important to not go around shouting "We found life on Venus". It's difficult to explain how you get phosphine without a biological source. This is NOT the same as saying "phosphine 100% indicates life"
— David Berardo (@CentrlPotential) September 14, 2020
Only two scenarios remain: either there is something going on in Venus’ clouds that we don’t understand, or whatever is producing all that phosphine is alive. To be sure where it is coming from. we will probably have to send a spacecraft to Venus to take a closer look. (4/5)
— New Scientist (@newscientist) September 14, 2020
What do you think of this discovery?