An international team of astronomers on Monday announced the discovery of a rare gas molecule- phosphine on Venus. The presence of phosphine in the clouds of Venus could indicate the possibility of life inhabiting the Earth’s neighboring planet.
The researchers also observed that the phosphine level in the clouds of Venus is not much ( 12 molecule in every billion). Using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), in Hawaiʻi, they confirmed their discovery using 45 antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.
“When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’s spectrum, it was a shock!”, says team leader Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in the UK, who first spotted signs of phosphine in the clouds of Venus.
Researchers and astronomers have been searching for signs of life on Venus for over 50 years now. However, with the environment on the planet so acidic and hostile it was far too complex to make molecules necessary for life.
Extraterrestrial life on Venus
“Confirming the existence of life on Venus’s atmosphere would be a major breakthrough for astrobiology; thus, it is essential to follow-up on this exciting result with theoretical and observational studies to exclude the possibility that phosphine on rocky planets may also have a chemical origin different than on Earth,” said ESO astronomer and ALMA European Operations Manager Leonardo Testi after learning about the discovery.
On Earth, bacterias are known to make phosphine. They take up phosphate from minerals and add hydrogen to release phosphine. It is also known to be highly toxic to humans.
Following their discovery, the team ran calculations to understand where such amount of phosphine was coming from. Some of these suggestions included natural non-biological processes like sunlight, minerals blown upwards from the surface, volcanoes, or lightning. However, these processes only made ten thousandths the amount of phosphine which was not enough.
“It’s time to prioritize Venus,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote after the new discovery. He called it “the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth.”
Check out his tweet
Life on Venus? The discovery of phosphine, a byproduct of anaerobic biology, is the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth. About 10 years ago NASA discovered microbial life at 120,000ft in Earth’s upper atmosphere. It’s time to prioritize Venus. https://t.co/hm8TOEQ9es
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) September 14, 2020
Venus which is Earth’s direct neighbor has a hostile environment for any kind of life. Research claims that the atmosphere on Venus is 50 times drier than the driest places on Earth. The surface temperature on Venus reaches a blazing 880 degrees Fahrenheit making it the hottest planet in the solar system.
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