Scientists say they’ve detected a chemical associated with biological activity within the clouds of Venus, at a height where airborne life forms could theoretically exist.
The chemical, known as PH3 or phosphine, isn’t the first biomarker to be found in Venus’ atmosphere. But the scientists say they can’t come up with a non-biological process that could produce phosphine at the levels they’re seeing.
This isn’t the smoking gun for life on Venus. Nevertheless, the latest findings — which leaked out over the weekend and were published today in Nature Astronomy — give peer-reviewed weight to an idea that once seemed almost ludicrous: the idea that microbes or other life forms may be perpetually floating in Venus’ acidic air, more than 30 miles above the planet’s searingly hot surface.
The findings are also likely to give a push to several proposed space missions that are already targeting the clouds of Venus.
“It may be that Venus, not Mars, is our best hope for a long-inhabited nearby neighbor,” David Grinspoon, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Instutute, told me in an email.
The possibility of finding life in Venus’ clouds has been under debate for decades. The late astronomer Carl Sagan ...