Hints of life on Venus

Katie Ramirez
September 15, 2020

Watch our summary of the discovery.

Another member of the team, Massachusetts Institute of Technology molecular astrophysicist Clara Sousa Silva, has investigated phosphine as a "biosignature" gas of non-oxygen-using life on planets around other stars. Some scientists have suspected that the Venusian high clouds, with mild temperatures around 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), could harbour aerial microbes that could endure extreme acidity.

The team considered processes on Venus, such as volcanoes or sunlight, to explain the presence of phosphine...

Phosphine was first spotted in observations that were made by Cardiff University astronomer Jane Greaves using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii. It costs them energy to do this, so why they do it is not clear. 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.

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"If it is true that this phosphine is produced by biological life, then that would have huge implications for not just our understanding of Venus but our understanding of life in the whole universe", Queen's University's Connor Stone, a PhD candidate in physics, engineering physics and astronomy, said.

These clouds are around 90 per cent sulphuric acid.

In addition to being on Earth, phosphine has been found in the atmospheres of Saturn and Jupiter, but Stone pointed out that the chemistry of gas planets and rocky planets, like Earth and Venus, are different enough to make Monday's announcement significant.

Top image: Image of Venus, observed in the 365nm waveband by the Venus Ultraviolet Imager (UVI) on board the Akatsuki probe.

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