Signs of Life on Venus

We have been looking for signs of life in the universe for a long time. In our solar system, Mars has been the focus of NASA and other organizations and institutes. Now, Europa and Enceladus, and other moons of the gas giants are also the centers of the investigations being done to look for signs of life. But nobody ever looked at Venus and thought if it contains life too. Of course, it is the hottest planet in the solar system. The temperature on the surface of Venus approaches 470-degree Celsius and the pressure there is equal to the pressure 300 ft underwater here on Earth. Besides this, the atmosphere of Venus is mostly carbon dioxide with yellowish clouds of sulfuric acid. So, no one can think of looking for signs of life on such a planet.

But something incredible happened in the year 2017. In June 2017, astronomer Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Whales was looking for signs of different kinds of molecules in the Venusian atmosphere through the James Clark Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. Different molecules absorb light of different wavelengths and astronomers can recognize each of them here on Earth. She found different kinds of molecules but to her surprise, one of those molecules was “phosphine”.

“I got intrigued by the idea of looking for phosphine because phosphorus might be a bit of a sort of go-no-go for life,” Dr. Greaves said.

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Phosphine was a very important discovery because it is a sign of life. Only a living thing can produce such a molecule. Though we have detected phosphine on Jupiter and Saturn there the conditions are very severe and it is possible for phosphine to exist there but on a rocky planet like Earth and Venus, the only possible way phosphine can be found here is anaerobic life or microbial life that doesn’t use oxygen. This is the reason when looking for life elsewhere in the universe, astronomers use Phosphine as a biosignature gas.

For further investigation, astronomers used the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), in Chile, in March 2019. The data they obtained pointed towards phosphine and estimated a large quantity of it. The estimated amount was 5 to 20 parts per billion. It may look a very small amount but it is thousands of times more than what is here in Earth’s atmosphere.

Researchers tried to trace the source of this gas. They tried to rule out all the non-biological sources of phosphine. According to them the only possible explanation for its existence is life.

Such life needs to evolve to survive in such harsh and extreme conditions of Venus. We know that there are such microbes here on Earth that live in extreme conditions. These organisms have a protective coating on them. Perhaps, the Venusian life also possesses such structure.

But due to the pandemic in 2020, the researchers couldn’t complete their work and many questions remained unanswered.

But later, it was found that the ALMA data was not completely correct. There was some kind of error. Many scientists did their own research and found the amount of phosphine less than that of what ALMA found. But still, some scientists are confident about the signs of phosphine. The recorded value cannot be produced by any kind of phenomenon other than life. For a further more detailed study of Venus, NASA on June 2, 2021, announced that they are going to send two missions to Venus for their Discovery Program. These missions are DAVINCI (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) and VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy).

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