[imagesource: Starry Night Software]
When it comes to extraterrestrial life in space, the focus has predominantly been on Mars.
There’s a reason for that. With Elon Musk and others trying to find ways for us to live on the red planet, it’s best to make sure that we aren’t confronted with surprise hostile and unknown entities when we get there.
NASA scientist Gilbert V. Levin believes that we had proof of life on Mars almost 40 years ago, but that hasn’t been 100% confirmed.
More recently, the focus has switched to another planet in the solar system in a study published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
An international team of astronomers, led by Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University, have announced the discovery of phosphine gas in Venus’ atmosphere which is the same as a molecule produced by microbes here on Earth, and which can survive in oxygen-free environments.
While the temperatures on Venus are presumed to be far too hot to sustain life, the conditions in the atmosphere are a little more habitable.
The phosphine molecules, which consist of hydrogen and phosphorus atoms, says Sky News, was initially detected using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii.
This would explain the dark streaks on Venus, say the scientists, which could be “colonies of microbes, surviving in a pleasant 30C temperature of the high clouds”.
Here’s Professor Greaves with more about the discovery:
“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!”
Yes, I would imagine so. Alien life is often the domain of tinfoil hat-wearing weirdos who hang out near Area 51.
Not that scientists haven’t done a bit of searching, but historically signs of life have been found while looking for something else.
TIME points out that several experts, including Cornell University astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger and Justin Filiberto, a planetary geochemist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, agreed that while this is interesting, it is by no means absolute proof of life on another planet.
At the same time:
Study co-author Sara Seager, an MIT planetary scientist, said researchers “exhaustively went through every possibility and ruled all of them out: volcanoes, lightning strikes, small meteorites falling into the atmosphere. … Not a single process we looked at could produce phosphine in high enough quantities to explain our team’s findings.”
Further studies are needed to lock this down, with Professor Emma Bunce, president of the Royal Astronomical Society calling for a new mission to Venus to investigate further.
Who knows? Maybe the truth really is out there.
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