Strange chemical in clouds of Venus defies explanation. Could it be a sign of life?
Discovering life beyond Earth may well start with a sniff, a whiff of some chemical that scientists struggle to explain without invoking a strange, shadowy microbe. That first step has happened on Mars and on a few distant moons, and now, scientists suggest, on Venus.
A team of astronomers announced today (Sept. 14) that it has spotted the chemical fingerprint of phosphine, which scientists have suggested may be tied to life, in the clouds of the second rock from the sun. The finding is no guarantee that life exists on Venus, but researchers say it's a tantalizing find that emphasizes the need for more missions to the hot, gassy planet next door.
"The interpretation that it's potentially due to life, I think, is probably not the first thing I would go for," Victoria Meadows, an astrobiologist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the new research, told Space.com.
You know how we're always worried about contaminating planets that could possibly have life of their own? Then imagine we finally discover independent life on another world and it ends up being a poisonous gas? Now imagine being a rat on a rockship on its way to Venus, I'd be afraid, very afraid.