A team of researchers reported possible signs of life on the planet when they detected a gas called Phosphine in the planet’s atmosphere.
Phosphine, which is colourless and smells like garlic, is produced by bacteria that survive without oxygen. It is usually found in marshy areas, lake sediments, swamps and industrial settings. Venus’ atmosphere was studied using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and evidence of the gas was detected using the Atacama Large Millimetre/Submillimetre Array in Chile.
Jane Greaves, lead author of a Nature Astronomy report and professor at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom said, “[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.”
The planet’s average surface temperature is around 880-degree Fahrenheit which can melt metals and damage spacecraft. Its atmosphere also contains chemicals and compounds that would react and destroy any amount of phosphine. One such example would be the Soviets landing a probe on Venus, which operated only for a few minutes due to very high pressure, proving that life could not exist on the planet.
According to MIT researcher Clara Sousa-Silva, there are many questions, such as “how any organism could survive on Venus”. While researchers are sceptical about the possibility of life on the planet due to such high levels of phosphine in the atmosphere, some argue that there could have been some geological processes that might have caused this occurrence. Researchers had tried to detect non-biological sources of the gas such as volcanic eruptions, lightning, or meteorites but failed to yield the expected result.
While planets like Mars have been the focus of exploration, Venus has now come under the spotlight. These discoveries and unanswered questions have already led to several proposals for future space missions to Venus including ISROs potential 2023 mission, 'Shukrayaan - 1', and NASA's DAVINCI + and VERITAS.
Hopefully, these initiatives can give us an insight into our next-door neighbours, if any.