An international team of astronomers measured the rare molecule phosphine in the clouds of Venus. This gas, also known as hydrogen phosphorus, is produced by microbes that thrive in environments without oxygen.
The scientists also looked for another source of the phosphine. For example, lightning and volcanoes can produce small amounts of phosphine. But the atmosphere of Venus contains 10,000 times as much phosphine as such sources could ever produce, the team calculated.
No conclusive evidence
The discovery has not yet proven conclusive for life on Venus, the researchers emphasize. You speak of a “possible sign of life” for which there is no plausible other explanation. Much more research is needed to confirm extraterrestrial life. The best way to get security is to send a space probe to Venus. It could bring research material back to Earth.
Scientists have been looking for life outside of Earth for some time, but Venus has never been seen as a really serious candidate. With an average temperature of almost 500 degrees, it is the hottest planet in our solar system. The air pressure on the surface is 92 times that on Earth, and impenetrable clouds of sulfuric acid hang in the air.
“Finding phosphine on Venus was an unexpected bonus,” said researcher Clara Sousa Silva. “The discovery raises many questions, such as how an organism can survive. On earth, some microbes can handle 5 percent acid in their environment. The clouds of Venus consist almost entirely of acid. “
The research was carried out by about 20 scientists from British and American universities. The European astronomical organization ESO, of which the Netherlands is a member, was also involved in the study. The discovery is in the major science magazine Nature Astronomy and was published Monday by the British Royal Astronomical Society.
Scientists are also looking for teeming microbes on Mars, Jupitermoons Europa and Ganymede, and Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan. To date, the earth is the only planet on which life is known.