Maunakea telescope finds hints of life on Venus

Potentially confirming the presence of microbial life in the clouds above Venus presents a number of potential challenges - and not only technical ones. The team is composed of Jane S. Greaves (School of Physics & Astronomy, Cardiff University, UK [Cardiff]), Anita M.S. Richards (Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, The University of Manchester, UK), William Bains (Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA [MIT]), Paul Rimmer (Department of Earth Sciences and Cavendish Astrophysics, University of Cambridge and MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK), Hideo Sagawa (Department of Astrophysics and Atmospheric Science, Kyoto Sangyo University, Japan), David L. Clements (Department of Physics, Imperial College London, UK [Imperial]), Sara Seager (MIT), Janusz J. Petkowski (MIT), Clara Sousa-Silva (MIT), Sukrit Ranjan (MIT), Emily Drabek-Maunder (Cardiff and Royal Observatory Greenwich, London, UK), Helen J. Fraser (School of Physical Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK), Annabel Cartwright (Cardiff), Ingo Mueller-Wodarg (Imperial), Zhuchang Zhan (MIT), Per Friberg (EAO/JCMT), Iain Coulson (EAO/JCMT), E'lisa Lee (EAO/JCMT) and Jim Hoge (EAO/JCMT).

The research team will continue its search for the origin of the phosphine gas detected on Venus, as well as look for other unexpected gases in its atmosphere.

The global team, which includes researchers from the UK, US and Japan, estimates that phosphine exists in Venus's clouds at a small concentration, only about 20 molecules in every billion.

On Earth, phosphine is a flammable, foul, toxic gas produced by bacteria that doesn't require oxygen - like those in swamps, wetlands, sludge or even animal guts. This detection could point to extra-terrestrial "aerial" life in the Venusian atmosphere. And the presence of phosphine is strongly associated with life. But how did it get there? (As Koren notes in the Atlantic, if a rover were ever sent to Venus, it would melt on its surface in "minutes.") Viewing Venus as a relatively unlikely candidate for hosting life, astronomers have long searched for evidence of life elsewhere, such as on Mars and Jupiter's icy moons, the Times notes. Phosphine consists of one atom of phosphorous on top of a base of three hydrogen atoms, per the New York Times.

How Could Life Exist On Or Around Fiery Venus?

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Venus should be hostile to phosphine. "If there's life in the Venus clouds, that would be extraordinary", she says.

"If this is not life, then our understanding of rocky planets is severely lacking".

What If Life Began On Earth, Not In Deep-Space?

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"Fortunately, Venus is right next door", Sousa-Silva said. The implication is the very opposite if we think about it. That's why finding phosphine out of all potential biomarkers is so notable. Therefore, the hidden question is: Did life emerge on Earth, not in space? However, "there is much about Venus we still don't understand, or that we understand poorly". Consider that Thor of Norse mythology, Teshub of Hurrian legends, Set of Egyptian cosmology, and Vahagn of Armenian folklore were all seen in a different light in 1772 when Benjamin Franklin demonstrated how thunderstorms created electricity. The scientists estimated 20 parts-per-billion of the gas is present in Venus' clouds.

Top image: A high resolution 3D image of the planet Venus, second planet from the Sun which is surrounded by the "invisible" clouds of Venus.

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