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Life on Venus

Astronomers find a rare molecule,phosphine,that suggests possibility of life

According to astronomers,traces of a rare molecule known as phosphine have been found in Venus,providing a clue about the possibility of life. Phosphine molecules found on Earth are primarily a result of human industry or the actions of microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments.

The study was authored by Cardiff University professor Jane Greaves and her colleagues, and published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The Researchers used the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii in 2017 and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in 2019 to study Venus. Their data revealed a spectral signature unique to traces of phosphine in the planet’s atmosphere. They estimated 20 parts-per-billion of the gas is present in Venus’ clouds.

“We have detected a rare gas called phosphine in the atmosphere of our neighbor planet Venus and the reason for our excitement is that phosphine gas on Earth is made by microorganisms that live in oxygen-free environments. And so there is a chance that we have detected some kind of living organism in the clouds of Venus.” Jane said.

“In order to make this quite extraordinary claim that there might be life there, we really have to rule everything out, and that’s why we’re very cautious saying we’re not claiming there’s life, but claiming there’s something that is really unknown and it might be life,” said team member William Bains, a researcher at MIT.

Sara Seager, a fellow MIT scientist who studies exoplanet atmospheres, agreed, saying “we are not claiming we have found life on Venus.”

“We are claiming the confident detection of phosphine gas whose existence is a mystery,” she said. “Phosphine can be produced by some (non-biological) processes on Venus, but only in such incredibly tiny amounts it’s not enough to explain our observation. So we’re left with this other exciting, enticing possibility: that perhaps there is some kind of life in Venus’ clouds.”

Mars has long been considered the best candidate in the solar system beyond Earth to have hosted microbial life in the distant past or even in the present, as suggested by background levels of methane. NASA, the European Space Agency, China, India, Russia and United Arab Emirates are all pursuing exploration of the red planet.

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