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Astronomers find possible sign of life on Venus

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Astronomers have spotted the chemical signature of phosphine, a noxious gas that on Earth is only associated with life, in Venus’ clouds.

This makes scientists believe that there may be living organisms in the clouds above Venus. Scientists claim that they have found the chemical signature of phosphine in the planet’s atmosphere. Phosphine is a noxious gas on Earth, made by microorganisms that live in oxygen-free environments. 

The researchers did not discover actual life forms but noted that on Earth phosphine is produced by bacteria thriving in oxygen-starved environments.

The international scientific 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.

“I was very surprised – stunned, in fact , this was an experiment made out of pure curiosity, really. I thought we’d just be able to rule out extreme scenarios, like the clouds being stuffed full of organisms. When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’s spectrum, it was a shock!” said astronomer Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Wales, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The discovery of phosphine, a byproduct of anaerobic biology, is the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth,” Bridenstine wrote.

“With what we currently know of Venus, the most plausible explanation for phosphine, as fantastical as it might sound, is life,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology molecular astrophysicist and study co-author Clara Sousa-Silva.

Venus is home to a hellish landscape that lies at the bottom of an opaque atmosphere made of carbon dioxide, with scorching surface temperatures as hot as 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius). Sometimes called Earth’s “evil twin,” it’s the closest world to our own.

At Venus’s scalding surface, the atmosphere is 90 times thicker than Earth’s, similar to the crushing pressure you would find 3,000 feet (900 meters) under the ocean. That doesn’t seem like an environment ripe for life.

Scientists say more proof is needed, via observation and modeling to uncover the phosphine origin and to confirm life on the planet.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has already proposed a mission to Venus called ‘Shukrayaan-1’, which will orbit the planet and focus on the chemistry of the planet’s atmosphere. The mission will launch in 2023 or after, Isro chairman K Sivan had said. This is the next mission that’s planned towards Venus which could provide further opportunities to scan for life on the planet.

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