Life Signature on Venus

  • An international team of astronomers recently announced about the discovery of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus.
  • It triggered global excitement about the possibility of the presence of lifeforms on the neighbouring planet.
  • Apart from being produced in industrial processes, phosphine, a colourless but smelly gas, is known to be made only by some species of bacteria that survive in the absence of oxygen.

       So, is there life on Venus?

  • No one is saying that as of now.
  • What scientists have discovered is the presence of a chemical which is known to be produced only through biological process, and not through any naturally occurring chemical process.
  • There are some other ways in which this chemical might be produced, for example, in the underbelly of volcanoes or meteorite activity, but that would have shown in much lower concentrations.
  • Discovery was made in 2017, and the scientists checked and re-checked their data over the last three years before deciding to make it public.

       Why is it significant then?

  • This is the most credible evidence yet for the possibility of life away from Earth.

       But Venus cannot support life, can it?

  • The temperature of Venus is too high, and its atmosphere is highly acidic, just two of the things that would make life impossible.
  • So, this phosphine could be remnants from a time when Venus was a much more hospitable place.

       What can this mean for Venus missions?

  • The finding can further ignite interest in space missions to Venus. Missions to Venus are not new.
  • Spacecraft have been going near the planet since the 1960s, and some of them have even made a landing.
  • In fact, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is also planning a mission to Venus, tentatively called Shukrayaan, in the near future.