The discovery of a rare chemical in the clouds of Venus could be a sign of life, an worldwide team of astronomers said in a study published Monday.
Astronomers have detected potential signs of life on Venus in the form of a gas called phosgene which is produced by bacteria in low-oxygen environments.
Astronomers have speculated for decades that high clouds on Venus could offer a home for microbes - floating free of the scorching surface, but still needing to tolerate very high acidity. This detection could point to extra-terrestrial "aerial" life in the Venusian atmosphere. The new discovery is described in a paper in Nature Astronomy.
That is where phosphine is said to have been found. Venus's clouds are so acidic that they could destroy phosphine quickly, meaning that there has to be something actively forming it, as the amount of the gas found cannot be explained any other way. Bad weather added a frustrating delay, but after six months of data processing, the discovery was confirmed. 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. Microbes on Earth can not survive that acidity.
She said finding it on Venus is exciting and extraordinary. Professor Sara Seager and Dr Janusz Petkowski, also both at MIT, are investigating how microbes could shield themselves inside droplets. They found phosphine at levels ranging from five to 20 parts per billion - thousands of times more than what's in Earth's atmosphere.
"But life in the clouds, assuming life had been able to migrate to the clouds and live there, that life would have survived".
Based on a press release by the Royal Astronomical Society.