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  • A handout photo made available by the European Southern Observatory shows an artistic impression of Solar System neighbour Venus

    A handout photo made available by the European Southern Observatory shows an artistic impression of Solar System neighbour Venus | Photo: EFE

Published 14 September 2020
Opinion

The researchers manage the hypothesis that primary forms of life started to develop in Venus, but found a hostile environment while the planet suffered global warming. 

Astronomers of Cardiff University, in the United Kingdom, have detected the presence of phosphine gas in the Venus atmosphere, which could be a sign of life on the second planet of our solar system.

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The phosphine is located in clouds at an altitude of 30 miles. After several studies, the experts have not found a process or explanation for the presence of the gas other than the existence of life. On Earth, microbes living in environments under oxygen scarcity emit phosphine. 

“It’s completely startling to say life could survive surrounded by so much sulphuric acid, but all the geological and photochemical routes we can think of are far too underproductive to make the phosphine we see,” said Cardiff University astronomer and leader of the scientific team, Professor Jane Greaves.

The researchers manage the hypothesis that primary forms of life started to develop in Venus, but found a hostile environment while the planet suffered global warming. 

For 2 billion years, Venus had stable temperatures and an ocean, but now its surface is almost waterless with temperatures that graze 450 degrees Celsius. These circumstances propitiated a dense carbon dioxide atmosphere that emits acid rain, with 90% of sulfuric acid in the precipitations.

Many scientists assume there are no possibilities for life in Venus, but phosphine contradicts those speculations. The gas is present in middle latitudes but not in the poles, in a concentration of 20 molecules per billion. On Earth, microbes must reach 10% of their productivity to release that amount of gas.

 “This is a huge opportunity for follow-on observations from Earth-based telescopes, and ideally to scrutinize these droplets in the Venusian atmosphere with a balloon probe drifting through the acidic clouds,” said astrobiologist at the University of Westminster, Lewis Dartnell.

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