Scientists spot potential sign of life in Venus atmosphere

James Marshall
September 15, 2020

Now an worldwide team of astronomers led by Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University have announced the discovery of phosphine gas in these high clouds, a molecule which is produced on Earth by microbes that live in similar oxygen-free environments.

The presence of phosphine remains "unexplained after exhaustive study", with "no now known abiotic production routes" in Venus's atmosphere, clouds, surface, or subsurface, according to the researchers, led by Jane Greaves, an astronomer at Cardiff University. On Earth, bacteria produce phosphine.

Jane Greaves, an astronomer at Cardiff University in Wales, first detected phosphine on Venus in 2017.

The worldwide scientific team first spotted the phosphine using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and confirmed it using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile. They found phosphine at levels ranging from five to 20 parts per billion - thousands of times more than what's in Earth's atmosphere.

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