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Life on Venus? Science explores the possibility of life on the planet

Chemical anomalies in the atmosphere of Venus could indicate the presence of life on the neighboring planet.

It is believed that there are several anomalies in the atmosphere of Venus that would provide different evidence of yet unknown biological processes and systems. Investigating these anomalies would provide great explanations, including biological activity that would provide the possibility of life in the planet’s clouds.

Venus Research

Researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom have worked on a new study related to the possibility that life exists in the clouds of Venus. To do so, they analyzed how phosphine is just one of several peculiar cloud features that airborne microorganisms would be able to explain. During the investigation, they also examined the anomalies in the context of previous hypotheses about Venus’ atmosphere and previous discoveries in astronomy, biology, and geology.

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Anomalies indicating life on Venus

On Earth, phosphine in the air is associated with life processes because it is an element produced by living organisms, which is why scientists consider the possibility of life processes on Venus. The presence of this element in the Venusian atmosphere is not yet clear and is still under debate, because while some take for granted a resounding no, other investigations argue that there may be phosphine in the clouds of Venus, giving indications of life.

Several strange chemicals have been discovered in the atmosphere of Venus, such as possible bio-signatures and ammonia giving the planet a chemical equilibrium. The current article focuses on ammonia, phosphine, and redox imbalance.

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Other phenomena that have been observed on Venus are the depletion of sulfur and water in its clouds and the fact that the mineral composition does not appear to be in equilibrium with the lower atmosphere. The researchers believe that at least one of these anomalies could be explained by biological processes.

Anomalies fall outside the realm of expectations induced by theoretical frameworks and in that sense, the scientists behind this research call for anomalies not to be recognized as failed predictions, as they play a fundamental role in the process of scientific discovery.

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Phosphine on Venus

The team made the first observations using the Atacama LArge Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), thanks to which they were able to analyze the Venusian atmosphere and suggest the presence of phosphine.

Other scientists think that if true, this compound on Venus is found above the clouds and not within them. If the hypothesis were true, it would be more unstable and would need to be constantly replenished in some way.

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“If there is observable phosphine above the Venus clouds, we are left with two explanations: life as we do not know it and non-life as we do not know it. Both possibilities must be considered and neither should be favored. Instead, more predictions must be made and more data must be collected,” Cleland and Rimmer explained.

The best way to explore astro-biologically is to walk the planet and be on the lookout for any kind of anomalous order that would indicate some process from which we can learn or ultimately prove that new life has been found.

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If the presence of life on Venus were to be verified, it would have a major impact on the understanding of life on the planets, opening up a universe of possibilities.

Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera

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[Cover Photo: JAXA/ ISAS/ DARTS/ Kevin M. Gill]

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