Did We Really Find Life on Venus?

All the news headlines I’ve seen are about life found on Venus, but is that really the case? This post is a super short and sweet summary of what all the fuss is about, and what everything boils down to in the end.

What did we find?

A team of astronomers lead by Prof Jane Greaves at Cardiff University studied the presence of certain elements in the atmosphere of Venus, and found the chemical Phosphine in large quantities.

Earth also has a lot of phosphine, however here it is mainly produced by industrial factories… or by microbial life!

Phosphine was quite a shocker, and not something you’d expect on such an inhospitable planet! Greaves conducted this research using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, and then was granted permission to use ALMA in Chile to gather more reliable observations. Lo’ and behold, the phosphine signatures were replicated!

Astronomers have spent 3 years finding ways phosphine can be produced on a planet, and eliminating the least possible explanations.

Yet, it seems that microbial life is one of the more reasonable explanations that we know of so far for the production and the quantity of phosphine found in the Venusian atmosphere. The kind of microbes that produce phosphine mainly do not require oxygen to survive, which is very fitting for Venus’ climate. It all seems so clear-cut, right?

Oucher-Pouchers anyone?

Not so fast! The presence of phosphine is not direct evidence of life itself. Rather, it is more of a biomarker. We would need further investigation using other methods, and search for more biomarkers if we want to confirm that there’s life on Venus.

We need to ask further questions as well. If there were anaerobic microbes on Venus, how do they manage to survive in such awful conditions? How do they withstand the temperatures there? If they live in the cloud decks, how did they get up there? What mechanism keeps them at such high altitudes?

I’m sorry to burst your (or the Newspapers’) bubble, but there is an awful lot of research that needs conducting before we even get close to just theorising that there’s Venusian life!

It looks like if there is Venusian life, it’ll be nothing like the beautiful winged girls from Wonder Woman.

3 comments

  1. There’s so much weird chemistry going on on Venus. I’m sure there’s a perfectly sensible non-biological explanation for that phosphine signature. It’s good to hear, though, that the detection has already been replicated. My initial thought when this news came out was that it must be a false positive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The biological reason was one of many strong arguments, and even the paper writes that they are not implying that there’s life on Venus! Ah, news outlets are the best when it comes to accuracy! I think this issue could really benefit with some closer observations with a spacecraft.

      Liked by 1 person

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