It’s the new of the day. Although it was almost impossible, there are signs of life on Venus. At least in one of the layers of its dense atmosphere. Says an international team of more than twenty researchers. It is headed by Jane S. Graves of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). An insightful study has just been published in Nature.
But why do you say that? Because they found traces of phosphine there, a colorless and highly flammable gas. It is created when organic substances decompose. What does its discovery mean in the Venusian atmosphere? That the neighboring planet hosts photochemical or geochemical processes that were previously unknown. And possibly life.
Here on earth, phosphine (PH3) is primarily an indicator of biological activity. And the researchers make it clear. The spectral lines of this element found on Venus “have no other plausible identification”.
Venus comes closest to our idea of hell. It reaches 450 degrees Celsius on its surface. Its toxic atmosphere consists mainly of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. But things weren’t always like that. Billions of years ago had Venus a temperate climate. Blue sky and great quantities of water that make up seas were abundant. Life could have evolved for at least 3,000 million years.
The sun got hotter every time. They caused a greenhouse effect on Venus worldwide. The temperatures rose, the water evaporated.
However, it bears a resemblance to Earth. It lies at an altitude between 40 and 60 km above the fiery surface. The atmosphere of Venus is most similar to that of Earth in the entire solar system. The air pressure is very similar to the earth pressure. The temperatures range from zero to 50 degrees Celsius.
In 2017 and 2019, Greaves and his colleagues observed Venus. And what they discovered was the unmistakable “signature” of phosphine. The gas was found in the planet’s hopeful atmospheric layer. They explored the different ways that phosphine could be made. But could not determine the origin of the gas. And without saying it clearly, they point out in their study that the only plausible source would be the presence of life.
However, the mere presence of phosphine is not strong evidence of microbial life. May indicate unknown geological or chemical processes in Venus
Recently, astrobiologist Sara Saeger suggested something in an article published in Astrobiology. It was a viable “life cycle” for possible organisms living in Venus’ atmosphere.
The microbes of Venus would live in a liquid environment, in tiny droplets that float in the clouds of the habitable strip. As the number of microbes increases, gravity kicks in with every drop. It would make them settle in the hottest, most uninhabitable layer, just below the clouds.
The microbes would “turn themselves off” in anticipation of better conditions, just like on Earth. Later updrafts would carry some of these dormant microbes back to the clouds. There they would rehydrate and reactivate. For the researcher, this life cycle could even be sustained for millions of years.
At the moment there is only evidence of life on Venus. We’ll have to wait for new analysis before we officially release the news. The detection of phosphine could give the Venus exploration missions new impetus.