Scientists detect gas on Venus linked to life on earth

Artist's impression of molecule found on Venus

The rare and toxic gas is not a direct sign of life but the sheer amount of it cannot be explained through any known processes, leading researchers to believe that it could be an indication of alien life in our solar system.

The global 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.

Phosphine was first spotted in observations that were made by Cardiff University astronomer Jane Greaves using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii. Still, after running several calculations, they determined there were no non-biological sources on the planet that could account for the levels of phosphine they discovered in the atmosphere. But their research was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic and the limited time Venus spends above Earth's horizon. The new discovery is described in a paper in Nature Astronomy. 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. This detection could point to extra-terrestrial "aerial" life in the Venusian atmosphere.

Conversely, it might be the sign of an abiotic chemical process that we don't yet know of. In fact, the presence of life on our neighboring planet is the best explanation for why phosphine emerges.

For planetary science enthusiasts, of course, the idea of looking for life or even a new home for humans in the clouds of Venus isn't new.

If we gather enough evidence in the future to show it is there, the most pressing question becomes: how similar is it to life on Earth? Professor Sara Seager and Dr Janusz Petkowski, also both at MIT, are investigating how microbes could shield themselves inside droplets.

The team are now eagerly awaiting more telescope time, for example to establish whether the phosphine is in a relatively temperate part of the clouds, and to look for other gases associated with life. "I mean, Venus is a place we do not associate with extraterrestrial life..."