Astronomers reported today that they've detected phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus, a possible biosignature of life on the planet. The researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Manchester, and their colleagues published the news in Nature Astronomy and in another paper submitted to the science journal Astrobiology. From the New York Times:
After much analysis, the scientists assert that something now alive is the only explanation for the chemical’s source.
Some researchers question this hypothesis, and they suggest instead that the gas could result from unexplained atmospheric or geologic processes on a planet that remains mysterious. But the finding will also encourage some planetary scientists to ask whether humanity has overlooked a planet that may have once been more Earthlike than any other world in our solar system[…]
David Grinspoon of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., who was not part of the work but has long promoted the possibility of life in Venus’s clouds, said, “That is pretty damn exciting!”
The work needs to be followed up, he said, “but this could be the first observation we’ve made which reveals an alien biosphere and, what do you know, it’s on the closest planet to home in the entire cosmos.”
"Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus" (Nature Astronomy)
image: (c) ISAS/JAXA