Astronomers announced on Monday that traces of a rare molecule called phosphine have been found in the heavily acidic atmosphere of Venus, leading to speculations to the possibility of life on the planet.
CBS News reports that the researchers are not claiming that they have detected life on Venus but the observations suggest at least the possibility of microbial activity in the upper layers of the planet’s atmosphere, a good distance away from its inhospitable regions.
A professor at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, Jane Greaves, said of the development:
“We have detected a rare gas called phosphine in the atmosphere of our neighbor planet Venus. And the reason for our excitement is that phosphine gas on Earth is made by microorganisms that live in oxygen-free environments. And so there is a chance that we have detected some kind of living organism in the clouds of Venus.”
The researchers disclosed that much more study is needed to support any such claim, with team member Williams Bains (a researcher at MIT) adding:
“In order to make this quite extraordinary claim that there might be life there, we really have to rule everything out, and that’s why we’re very cautious saying we’re not claiming there’s life, but claiming there’s something that is really unknown and it might be life.”
Additionally, Sara Seager, a fellow MIT scientist who studies exoplanet atmospheres, stated:
“We are claiming the confident detection of phosphine gas whose existence is a mystery. Phosphine can be produced by some (non-biological) processes on Venus, but only in such incredibly tiny amounts it’s not enough to explain our observation. So we’re left with this other exciting, enticing possibility: that perhaps there is some kind of life in Venus’ clouds.”
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