By Tim Binnall
In what may ultimately turn out to be a landmark discovery, astronomers have detected a curious chemical in the atmosphere of Venus which could be a sign of alien life. The remarkable find, announced in a paper published on Monday, centers around the gas phosphine, which scientists observed at approximately 30 miles above the surface of Venus. What makes the detection of phosphine so tantalizing is that, here on Earth, it is only produced by industrial activity or found near microbes, which is why it is considered by some researchers to be a good indicator for possible alien life.
In detailing their discovery, the scientists who detected the phosphine noted that an exhaustive analysis determined that its presence is "unexplained after exhaustive study of steady-state chemistry and photochemical pathways, with no currently known abiotic production routes in Venus's atmosphere, clouds, surface and subsurface, or from lightning, volcanic or meteoritic delivery." With all of these potential origins for the gas having been ruled out, they argued that the phosphine found in the atmosphere of Venus could have been created, as seems to be case here on Earth, by some kind of microbial life.
While this development is undoubtedly quite exciting, scientists have been quick to temper expectations, noting that the chemical is only a possible indication of alien life and not the outright discovery of something living in the Venusian atmosphere. The hope now is to pursue this line of inquiry further with additional examinations of the area where the phosphine was found with the goal of gleaning more information about the presence of the mysterious gas and, should these studies prove to be fruitful, sending some kind of probe or craft to Venus to investigate the matter further.