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There Might Be Life Above Venus!

Marion Charatan

Posted on September 14, 2020 15:51

5 users

Detecting the molecule phosphine in Venus' atmosphere leads scientists to theorize the planet could have microbial life in its airspace.

I want to believe that there is life beyond our planet, especially now, when I don't particularly like the ways things seem to be headed. My feeling is there has to be something somewhere else. We can't be so ethnocentric to think that the buck stops right here. Scientists and philosophers, with knowledge bases much more extensive than mine, have been looking into these questions since the beginning of time.

A monumental discovery was made last Wednesday, September 16. Very high concentrations of the molecule phosphine were seen hanging in the atmosphere above Venus' surface through telescopes. What does this mean? Phosphine is a flammable chemical that typically is associated with farts, feces and rotting microbes, of all things -- translation, phosphine generally results from human activity.

What's special about the finding is that phosphine is typically created by human body processes or is a byproduct of technology -- coming from meth labs or industrial fumigants.

Phosphine is made up of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms. It has a stink similar to rotten fish. However, in a concentration where we can smell it, phosphine gas can cause lung damage. The phosphine found in Venus' upper atmosphere was in an atmospheric layer where sunlight, temperatures and air pressure are similar to Earth's.

"It's a really puzzling discovery because phosphine doesn't fit in our conception of what kinds of chemicals should be in Venus's atmosphere," said Astrobiologist Michael Wong, from the University of Washington.

Many scientists share the same wonder that Wong has. Nature Astronomy wrote that phosphine could be made by life on Venus in the same way it develops here on Earth.

Venus has always had a mystical element to it. The brightest planet in the solar system is visible at night and sometimes during the day. It is about the same size as Earth (radius of 3,760 miles). In fact, the two planets have been called "twins." But our neighbor is much hotter than we are, with temperatures that average 867 degrees Fahrenheit, certainly too hot for humans to survive there. Another difference is the "planet of love" has no moons, whereas we have one.

Due to its scorching surface, writers have fantasized that Venus might have exotic, amphibian-like creatures roaming around that are able to withstand high temperatures. But we can only guess if there is any form of life on Venus' surface. For humans, it would obviously be uninhabitable.

MIT scientist Sara Seager, who studies exoplanet atmospheres summed it up this way, "We are not claiming we have found life on Venus. We are claiming the confident detection of phosphine gas whose existence is a mystery. So we're left with this other exciting, enticing possibility: that perhaps there is some kind of life in Venus' clouds."

The other possibility is that some type of chemical process created the phosphine gas above Venus. Researchers will continue to search for answers.

Marion Charatan

Posted on September 14, 2020 15:51

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