15th September 2020
A study published in the journal Nature Astronomy suggests that astronomers should look closer to the Earth's position in the solar system for signs of alien life than the moons of Saturn.
The researchers conducting the study used the observations of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array observatory in Chile.
The study found traces of phosphine in Venus' infamous clouds, a gas that is known to be extremely flammable, poisonous, and corrosive.
Scientists know this because that gas is found on Earth too. On Earth, phosphine is produced either by people in lab settings or by anaerobic bacteria.
As such, the phosphine on Venus might likely have come from a living organism.
The authors of the study could not identify the exact source of the phosphine, although other potential sources that they investigated, like volcanic activity on Venus, could not explain the amount of gas they found.
"We really went through all possible pathways that could produce phosphine on a rocky planet. If this is not life, then our understanding of rocky planets is severely lacking," said study co-author Janusz Petkowski.
Scientists doubted the possibility of finding life on Venus due to its average surface temperature of 470 degrees Celsius and a carbon-dioxide packed atmosphere that would be inhospitable to any life found on Earth.
Some researchers suggest that although Venus' surface is not likely to be habitable, the band of clouds that surrounds the planet could host microbes.
To get further information on that possibility, NASA has researched and partly funded conceptual missions to Venus, but the agency has not launched a dedicated mission to the planet since 1989. Europe and Japan have sent spacecraft to orbit around Venus in 2006 and 2015, respectively, but they were not equipped to seek out signs of life.
Peter Beck, the CEO of private launch company Rocket Lab has expressed interest in exploring Venus for signs of life, using the company's newly developed Photon spacecraft, which is designed to carry technology into space.