ESO and NASA
Signs of alien life have been detected on Venus after scientists have discovered rare molecules there.
The molecules discovered in Venus’ clouds suggest colonies of living microbes could be on the planet and have been living in an oxygen-free environment.
Scientists have long speculated that life could survive in Venus’ atmosphere as it has a much more moderate climate compared to Venus’ surface which is thought to be over 400°C.
The new discovery comes from an international team of astronomers led by Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University. Professor Greaves and her team announced the discovery of phosphine gas in these high clouds – a molecule which is produced on Earth by microbes that live in similar oxygen-free environments.
The molecules that consists of hydrogen and phosphorus atoms were first discovered from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
As per Sky News, Professor Greaves said:
This was an experiment made out of pure curiosity, really – taking advantage of the JCMT’s powerful technology. I thought we’d just be able to rule out extreme scenarios, like the clouds being stuffed full of organisms. When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’ spectrum, it was a shock!
After confirming the presence of phosphine, the team ran several tests to try determine where it had come from. While Greaves and her team have cautioned that it could have been created naturally, work by Dr William Bains at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on natural ways to produce phosphine found that there is ‘no way’ to produce the amount of phosphine discovered in Venus’ atmosphere.
The new discovery offers a potential explanation to the dark marble-esque streaks that can be seen on Venus’ surface. It’s thought that the streaks could be the recently discovered microbes that are living in comfortable 30°C temperatures. However, the clouds they would be living in are highly acidic and made up on 90% sulphuric acid – an atmosphere difficult to survive in.
Professor Emma Bunce, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, is now calling for a new mission to Venus so researchers can investigate their new findings.
A key question in science is whether life exists beyond Earth, and the discovery by Professor Jane Greaves and her team is a key step forward in that quest.
I’m particularly delighted to see UK scientists leading such an important breakthrough – something that makes a strong case for a return space mission to Venus.
Maybe it’s time we all re-watch the Alien franchise…
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