According to experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the sky of Venus may hold signs of extraterrestrial life.
The second planet from our Sun has long been overlooked in the quest for extraterrestrial life. It's simple to understand why: the Venusian surface may reach temperatures of over 800 degrees Fahrenheit; its dense atmosphere exerts over 100 times more pressure on things than Earth's atmosphere; and the planet rains sulfuric acid, a corrosive substance that can inflict severe burns in people.
As a result, most scientists have concentrated on discovering evidence of ancient alien life on Mars or current life on moons such as Europa and Enceladus. However, Earth's nearest neighbor may have been the right location to search all along.
According to a new research paper published in Nature Astronomy, the Venusian atmosphere appears to contain considerable levels of phosphine, a chemical believed to be a byproduct of life.
Phosphine (PH3) can be created by inorganic processes such as interactions involving sunlight, surface minerals, volcanic activity, and lightning, but it is not definitive proof of life.
However, the study's authors evaluated these and other probable sources, and they developed computer models to see whether they could recreate phosphine formation on Venus. The findings created minor quantities of the chemical, but not nearly enough to be detected by several observatories within Venus' cloud decks.
So, for the time being, scientists don't know what's causing the phosphine to be produced. Alien life is still a viable explanation.
“Technically, biomolecules have been found in Venus’ atmosphere before, but these molecules are also associated with a thousand things other than life,” study co-author Clara Sousa-Silva told MIT News. “The reason phosphine is special is, without life it is very difficult to make phosphine on rocky planets. Earth has been the only terrestrial planet where we have found phosphine, because there is life here. Until now.”
If life is indeed making the chemical, it is most likely anaerobic life, or creatures that do not require oxygen. Surprisingly, such lifeforms would most likely be "aerial" aliens, hovering in a very tiny slice of livable atmosphere surrounded by otherwise horrific circumstances.
How might such lifeforms have arrived? Sousa-Silva elaborated:
“A long time ago, Venus is thought to have oceans, and was probably habitable like Earth,” Sousa-Silva told MIT News. “As Venus became less hospitable, life would have had to adapt, and they could now be in this narrow envelope of the atmosphere where they can still survive. This could show that even a planet at the edge of the habitable zone could have an atmosphere with a local aerial habitable envelope.”