Scientists detect tantalizing gas in the clouds of Venus, which could be a sight of alien life.
While this gas's presence isn't enough to conclude Venus hosts life forms, its existence in the planet's clouds indicates there could be extraterrestrial beings.
The Gas in Question is Phosphine
Here on Earth, phosphine is naturally produced mainly by certain microorganisms in the absence of oxygen.
The gas is also released in small amounts from the breakdown of organic matter. Or it is industrially synthesized in chemical plants.
In the search for life beyond Earth, astronomers found signs of this phosphine in Venus' atmosphere.
And now, experts suggest the planet could be supporting unknown chemical processes or even life.
Sara Seager, an astrobiologist from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said:
There are two possibilities for how it got there, and they are equally crazy.
One scenario is it is some planetary process that we don't know about. While the other is there is some life form living in the atmosphere of Venus.
However, Life is Only One Possible Explanation for the Source of the Gas
Seager emphasized that she and her colleagues aren't claiming to have found evidence of life on Venus.
Instead, they found a robust signal of a gas that doesn't belong in the planet's atmosphere. And it will take a lot more work to understand how it got there.
Clara Sousa-Silva, a molecular astrophysicist at MIT, said:
What we need now is for the scientific community to come and tear this work to shreds.
As a scientist, I want to know where I went wrong.
NASA is presently considering two missions to Venus that propose to study the planet's atmosphere and geochemistry—dubbed 'DAVINCI' and 'VERITAS.'
Casey Dreier, senior space policy adviser at the Planetary Society, a nonprofit pro-space organization that was not involved in the new research, said:
For something this big, we need follow-up confirmations, we need to have strong scientific debate.
Ultimately, we're going to need missions to Venus, and maybe even bringing samples back to Earth.
Another researcher, Sarah Stewart Johnson—a planetary scientist at Georgetown University—echoed Casey's sentiment.
This is exactly the kind of anomalous finding we should be following up on.
There may be things we're missing photochemically—that we simply don't understand.
However, it's possible that the phosphine is the result of an abiotic process, and its detection surely increases the chances for life."
Venus Remains an Underexplored Planet
Despite it being literally the planet next door, there are many mysteries that researchers still need to solve.
And before ruling out all nonliving explanations for the creation of phosphine, they need to learn a great deal more about the planet itself, including its chemistry, geology, and atmospheric physics.