Written By: Kristina Norgard
Venus, one of our closest neighbors–in the solar system, that is. On Monday, Sept. 14, researchers from Cardiff University, UK, did not actually discover life, but merely a sign that draws on the possibility of life on the planet, Venus. This sign is the discovery of a gas called phosphine. Reuters reports “that on Earth phosphine is produced by bacteria thriving in oxygen-starved environments,” which means that if phosphine is on Venus, there might be living bacteria on Venus producing it.
BBC reports the gas is found on Earth in places “with microbes living in the guts of animals like penguins, or in oxygen-poor environments such as swamps ”; it’s “a molecule made up of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms.”
One of the co-authors of the study, Clara Sousa-Silva, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology molecular astrophysicist, noted to Reuters that “I should emphasize that life, as an explanation for our discovery, should be, as always, the last resort,” Sousa-Silva added. “This is important because, if it is phosphine, and if it is life, it means that we are not alone. It also means that life itself must be very common, and there must be many other inhabited planets throughout our galaxy.” However, the BBC did report that there still is a strong possibility for the source of phosphine on Venus to be some kind of life. “Given everything we know about Venus and the conditions that exist there, no-one has yet been able to describe an abiotic pathway to phosphine, not in the quantities that have been detected. This means a life source deserves consideration.”
Professor Jane Greaves, from Cardiff University, told BBC News, “Through my whole career I have been interested in the search for life elsewhere in the Universe, so I’m just blown away that this is even possible.” Greaves added, . ” [b]ut, yes, we are genuinely encouraging other people to tell us what we might have missed. Our paper and data are open access; this is how science works.” The paper was published in the journal Nature Astronomy on September 14. The team of researchers, however, is not at all claiming that they discovered life on Venus. They are actually encouraging more researchers to join them and help them understand what they found and where it comes from.
However, there are some in the field who remain wary to make claims about the actuality of life on Venus and are more confident in finding life on other planets, such as Professor Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiologist from the University of Westminster, who told the BBC that, “He thinks Mars or the moons of Jupiter and Saturn are a better bet to find life.”
Either way, these are surely exciting advances happening in the various fields of science pertaining to outer space and extraterrestrial life. Regardless of whether or not life is confirmed to be found outside of Earth, it will be surely interesting to see what the future holds for the outcomes of more research for these teams and scientists.