The researchers did not discover actual life forms, but explained that on Earth phosphine is produced by bacteria thriving in oxygen-starved environments.
- Last Updated: September 15, 2020, 8:17 AM IST
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Is Venus where E.T decided to phone home?
Scientists Monday revealed that they have detected a gas called phosphine in the harshly acidic clouds of Venus. The presence of phosphine indicates that microbes may inhabit Earth’s inhospitable neighbor, a tantalizing sign of potential life beyond Earth.
The researchers did not discover actual life forms, but explained that on Earth phosphine is produced by bacteria thriving in oxygen-starved environments. The international scientific team first spotted the phosphine using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, and confirmed it using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile.
“I was very surprised – stunned, in fact,” astronomer Jane Greaves told Reuters of Cardiff University in Wales, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
The existence of extraterrestrial life long has been one of the paramount questions of science. Scientists have used probes and telescopes to seek “biosignatures” – indirect signs of life – on other planets and moons in our solar system and beyond.
“With what we currently know of Venus, the most plausible explanation for phosphine, as fantastical as it might sound, is life,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology molecular astrophysicist and study co-author Clara Sousa-Silva.
“I should emphasize that life, as an explanation for our discovery, should be, as always, the last resort,” Sousa-Silva added. “This is important because, if it is phosphine, and if it is life, it means that we are not alone. It also means that life itself must be very common, and there must be many other inhabited planets throughout our galaxy.”
Are we then, truly alone? Most people on Twitter couldn’t believe it, but it’s peak 2020.
Ladies, men are from Mars and the planet they assigned us might just have life.
— Kiran Manral (@KiranManral) September 14, 2020
I’m willing to bet Venus has more intelligent life than a Trump rally.
— John Pavlovitz (@johnpavlovitz) September 14, 2020
us: whEn iS #2020 gIVInG uS AliENs??venus: hi
— Burger King (@BurgerKing) September 15, 2020
all my venus opinions, consolidated:1. it’s never aliens2. could be tho3. there have been “signs of life” on many planets for a long time4. this is a pretty good one though 5. planets are awesome independent of their habitability6. please don’t do a colonialism
— Charlotte Minsky (@extrasolarchar) September 14, 2020
WELCOME FRIENDLY VENUSIAN BACTERIA OVERLORDS, PLEASE TAKE OVER, WE ARE VERY SHIT AT IT
— Gee Aitch Cee (@Scriblit) September 14, 2020
Phosphine was seen at 20 parts-per-billion in the Venusian atmosphere, a trace concentration. Greaves said the researchers examined potential non-biological sources such as volcanism, meteorites, lightning and various types of chemical reactions, but none appeared viable. The research continues to either confirm the presence of life or find an alternative explanation.
Venus is Earth’s closest planetary neighbor. Similar in structure but slightly smaller than Earth, it is the second planet from the sun. Earth is the third. Venus is wrapped in a thick, toxic atmosphere that traps in heat. Surface temperatures reach a scorching 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), hot enough to melt lead.