Gas Detected On Venus Atmosphere Points At Possible Signs Of Alien Life, Says Research

Gas Detected On Venus Atmosphere Points At Possible Signs Of Alien Life, Says Research

Phosphine can be created through industrial processes, it is also produced by anaerobic organisms like bacteria and microbes.

Image Source: Getty Images/ SCIEPRO (Representative)

Researchers say they have found possible signs of life on our neighboring planet Venus after discovering a rare and toxic gas called phosphine in its atmosphere. Phosphine is known for being one of the most foul-smelling gases on Earth. The odor is similar to rotting fish and can be found in penguin dung and pond slime. While the gas can be created through industrial processes, it is also produced by anaerobic organisms like bacteria and microbes. That's why it's presence is considered to be an excellent "biosignature" or evidence of life. But the current finding does not directly point at life on a planet other than earth. The sheer quantity of phosphine present on Venus is certainly baffling as its presence cannot be explained through any process that is known. Thus, it led researchers to suggest that it could be a sign of alien life in our vast solar system, reports The Independent.


Previously, experts have suggested that the presence of large quantities of phosphine on the other rocky planets would certainly indicate alien life. Now, it has been discovered on Venus, despite its ground being inadequate for the existence of any form of life as it's hot and acidic. That being said, the planet's upper cloud decks (around 30 miles up) do make for a habitable environment as the conditions are said to be more temperate and this where the gas is believed to be found. The clouds in the region are quite acidic and it would destroy phosphine immediately, this means something is actively forming it as there's no other known explanation for the formation of the gas there.


The findings were published in Nature Astronomy in an article- Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus. The research was conducted by an international team led by Jane Greaves from Cardiff University and it concluding saying that the detection "is not robust evidence for life, only for anomalous and unexplained chemistry" and there's no way to know for sure what it means until further work is done. "Either phosphine is produced by some sort of chemical or geological process that no one knows about – or there could be a biological reason," explained Emily Drabek-Maunder, an author of the paper.


The astrophysicist from the Royal Observatory Greenwich continued explaining that they have ruled out other explanations based on the known data on Venus. "Our study isn't conclusive that this is evidence of life. However, what is exciting about it is that we've found this rare gas in the upper atmosphere of Venus. Our team can't explain the amount of phosphine that we've found through our current understanding of the planet. When we try to model what's happening in the atmosphere – volcanic activity, sunlight, or even lightning – nothing recreates the amount of phosphine gas that we've seen. Another author on the paper David Clements said, "This isn't a smoking gun. This isn't even gunshot residue on the prime suspect's hands. But there is a distinct smell of cordite in the room."


Clements, who is a scientist at Imperial College London, continued, "It's a step on the way to potentially the discovery of life of some kind in the upper atmosphere of Venus. But we have many, many more steps to go before we can say there's life on Venus." Researchers chanced upon this discovery by accident while trying to detect phosphine on Venus as a means to establish a technical baseline. "We had no expectation there was actually going to be any there," said Dr. Clements. "It turned from a 'Let's try this, it's an interesting problem, and we can set some parameters for what needs to be done,' into 'My goodness, we've found it, what on Earth does that mean?'"


Experts who were not involved in the research regarded this finding as a "genuinely exciting result" because it does (at the very least) show unusual activity on Venus. Due to its acid and hot temperature (which can melt lead) researchers have not been looking at it to find alien life. "This would certainly be a very hellish environment. I'm not using that phrase lightly," said astrobiologist from the University of Westminster Lewis Dartnell. "It is hot, it is exceedingly acidic. I don't think any astrobiologist, and certainly not myself, would ever have put Venus at the top of the list," he said noting the icy moon orbiting Jupiter, Europa, and Mars are better candidates. "But you definitely wouldn't have gone for our next-door neighbor on the other side."


Scientists would have to carry out further experiments and observe Venus for years to come to understand where the phosphine is coming from. But most importantly, Dr. Drabek-Maunder says, "If we want to confirm life in the clouds of Venus then what we really need to do is send a spacecraft to study the atmosphere in detail." Dr. Clements added, "Assuming there is life there, you can apply everything we can do in a ground-based lab to deeply understand what's going on."

Recommended for you