Researchers have discovered the molecule phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. The molecule indicates that life may exist in the acidic clouds high above our sister planet. The discovery of phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere could signal a rejuvenated interest in the planet, which has long been ignored in favor of other locales in the solar system.
A mystery lurks in the clouds high above the stifling surface of our nearest planetary neighbor, Venus. Researchers have announced they’ve found traces of phosphine, a molecule potentially generated by living things, in the planet’s clouds.
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Planetary scientists have long speculated that Venus’s cloudy atmosphere could harbor life. The surface of Venus is inhospitable, with surface temperatures exceeding 800 degrees Fahrenheit. No probe sent to the planet—and there have been several—has survived for longer than a few hours. But the planet’s atmosphere, which is composed of plush layers of sulfuric acid clouds, may present a unique cradle for burgeoning lifeforms.
“We know that the molecule phosphine is a biomarker on Earth,” astronomer Jane Greave, of Cardiff University in Wales, said in a pre-recorded statement released by the Royal Astronomical Society. “It’s been suggested that there are possible habitats in the cloud decks of Venus, so somewhere where little lifeforms could live.”
In the July 1982 issue of Popular Mechanics, science editor Dennis Eskow reported on NASA’s fears that the Soviet Union would soon send cosmonauts to Venus. Currently, only one spacecraft, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Akatsuki orbiter, is studying the planet
To be clear, this latest discovery doesn’t explicitly confirm the existence of life on another world, but it’s the closest we’ve ever come. The researchers, who published
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