Goddess on the mountain top
Burning like a silver flame
The summit of beauty and love
And Venus was her name
— Venus (Shocking Blue)
While David Bowie wrote the definitive song about life on Mars, Venus is more the subject of love ballads. That may change soon as astrobiologists have discovered a biosignature indicating the possible presence of life on Venus. Should we start writing songs or preparing for an invasion?
“But according to several sources knowledgeable with the details of the announcement (who are not under embargo) phosphine has been discovered in the atmosphere of Venus. Its presence suggests – suggests – some strange chemistry going on since phosphine is something you’d only expect to see if life (as we know it) was involved.”
The website Astrobiology.com is on top of this big announcement by the Royal Astronomical Society (published in the journal Nature Astronomy) about the discovery of phosphine on Venus. Phosphine (PH3) is a toxic gas whose odor has been compared to the smell of rotting fish. Does this mean Venus is covered with dead fish which were once live fish? No, but it may mean the planet has certain kinds of microbes that live in oxygen-free environments and emit phosphine. Venus has no oxygen but it has phosphorous, so connecting these dots doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. However, phosphine can be created in other ways (in a lab, for example), so skeptics need more proof.
“From what we’re told the researchers have concluded that abiotic mechanisms (i.e. ones that do not involve life) that might produce phosphine cannot account for the large amount that they have detected. The phosphine has been detected in the region within the atmosphere of Venus that is considered by some to be potentially habitable.”
This may not be an “Ah-ha!” revelation, but it at least deserves an “ah.” Researchers at MIT agree and issued a video explaining it in non-astrobiologist terms. This goes with an MIT “hypothesis article” published earlier in the journal Astrobiology which proposes that researchers should be looking for life in the clouds of Venus rather than on the surface of the planet because could free-float there like water droplets, never getting heavy enough to fall to the ground. The clouds could also have the nutrients needed for them to survive. This “Venusian Aerial Biosphere” is quite possibly the best case scenario for life on Venus. Now all we need is a way to search for it beyond the Atacama (ALMA) telescope array in Chile and the James Clerk Maxwell telescope in Hawaii which found the phosphine.
“Short for Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography & Spectroscopy, VERITAS is being considered for selection under NASA’s Discovery Program and would be managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The project’s partners include Lockheed Martin, the Italian Space Agency, the German Space Agency, and the French Space Agency.”
NASA agrees and has proposed the VERITAS mission to search the clouds of Venus for life forms, possibly leaving as soon as 2026.
Well, I’m your Venus
I’m your fire
With the microbes you desire.
Apologies to Shocking Blue. If only David Bowie were here … he’d know what to sing.