THE ROYAL Astronomical Society announced the exciting news on Monday that scientists have detected a gas associated with a sign of life in the acidic clouds of Venus.
The discovery of the gas on Earth's closest neighbor could open up a new era of science if the hints of life are confirmed by additional telescopes or future space missions.
What did the royal astronomical society say about life on Venus?
An international team of astronomers at the Royal Astronomical Society reported on Monday that they have detected phosphine — a possible signature of life — in Venus' atmosphere for the first time.
The finding was published in the new study called Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus.
Venus is a scorching "hell planet" would instantly kill a human, with surface temperatures reaching 880F.
But scientists think the "temperate" upper cloud layer on Venus could play host to some forms of life.
The team first spotted the phosphine using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and confirmed it using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile.
Both facilities observed Venus at a wavelength of about 1 millimeter, much longer than the human eye can see – only telescopes at high altitude can detect this wavelength effectively.
“I was very surprised – stunned, in fact,” said astronomer Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Wales, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
What is Phosphine and how is it produced?
Phosphine is widely accepted as being a "promising sign of life", when found in a rocky planet's atmosphere.
Traces of phosphine in Earth's atmosphere are directly linked to human and microbial activity.
Phosphine can turn up on a planet in many different ways.
It can be created in the atmosphere, on the surface, or below the surface. And it can even be delivered from another planet.
On Venus, the phosphine was detected around 37 miles above the surface – in the cloudy atmosphere.
And scientists say it's unclear how this could happen without help from alien life.
Unfortunately, there's no 100% guarantee that life is hiding away on Venus – yet.
"We emphasize that the detection of phosphine is not robust evidence for life," said Professor Jane Greaves, of Cardiff University, who led the team that made the discovery.
"However, we have ruled out many chemical routes to phosphine, with the most likely ones falling short by four to eight orders of magnitude."
What's more, scientists caution that it's unlikely that we'll find the source of the gas without investigating the clouds or surface of Venus directly – using some kind of spacecraft.
How similar is Venus to Earth?
In many ways, Venus is similar to Earth.
Venus is often named as Earth's twin because both worlds share a similar size, surface composition, and have an atmosphere with a complex weather system.
Scientists believe that millions of years ago, Venus actually had oceans of liquid water like Earth.
"Before its quite dramatic, runaway greenhouse effect, the surface was pretty habitable," says Clara Sousa-Silva at MIT told NPR.
The scientist further explains that there has long been a theory out there that Venus might have once been inhabited and that life could have retained a stronghold in the clouds.
Facts about Venus
Here’s what you need to know…
- Venus is nearly the same size as Earth with a diameter of 12,104 km compared to Earth's 12,742 km
- Venus is so hot that the surface temperature can reach 471 °C
- It rotates in the opposition direction to most planets, potentially due to an asteroid collision
- Venus is the hottest planet in the Solar System
- It is the second brightest object in the sky at night
Has any spacecraft ever visited Earth?
In December 1962, the Mariner 2 mission to Venus was the first time any spacecraft had ever gone to another planet.
Mariner 2 showed that the surface of Venus was an inhospitable furnace, so it couldn't be the kind of primordial jungle that some had imagined.
Conditions on the surface are so extreme that it's hard to send a probe that can survive.
In 1982, the Soviet spacecraft Venera 13 lasted only a couple of hours after landing, sending home photos of orange-brown rocks before it succumbed.
NASA last dedicated Venus mission was Magellan, which launched in 1990 and mapped 98 percent of the planet's surface over four years.
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