Is there life on Venus? That’s what scientists are trying to find out. And with everything that’s happening here on planet Earth, maybe it’s in all our best interest if we become just as invested in the answer.
So here’s the thing; a study from Wales’ Cardiff University has found traces of phosphine gas detected in the clouds above Venus, and it could be an indication that the planet supports microbial life.
Phosphine is a colourless gas that smells like garlic or decaying fish. Here on Earth, it is naturally produced mainly by certain microorganisms in the absence of oxygen.
It can also be released in small amounts from the breakdown of organic matter, or industrially synthesized in chemical plants.
But these scientists have found signs of phosphine in Venus’s atmosphere, which suggests that the planet supports unknown processes or even life.
Now, because of Venus’s close proximity to the Sun (it’s the second closest), it’s inhospitable. It has a surface temperature around 867°F (464°C) and pressure 92 times that of on the Earth.
But its upper cloud deck — 33–38 miles (53–62 kilometres) above the surface — is a more temperate 120°F (50°C), with a pressure equal to that at Earth sea level.
Although they investigated thoroughly, the scientists were not able to tell exactly where on the planet the gas originated. And have cautioned that the detection of phosphine is not itself robust evidence for alien microbial life. They say it only indicates that potentially unknown geological or chemical processes are occurring on the planet.
Further observations and modelling will be needed, they added, to better explore the origin of the gas in the planet’s atmosphere.