NEW YORK (VINnews) —NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine on Monday hailed the discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. Phosphine is a gas which is only known to be produced from life forms or artificially in a lab.
Bridenstine tweeted: “Life on Venus? The discovery of phosphine, a byproduct of anaerobic biology, is the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth.”
Bridenstine added that “It’s time to prioritize Venus” after the gas was discovered in the atmosphere above Venus.
On Earth, phosphine (PH3) is only made by humans artificially, or by anaerobic bacteria, generally in rotting corpses. Finding it in an alien atmosphere at relatively high levels would be a decent indicator (though not proof) of biological processes taking place on the planet.
Generally the conditions on Venus, with daytime temperatures hot enough to melt lead, would not support life existing there but a team of experts who used powerful telescopes in Hawaii and Chile to observe the cloud cover around Venus, succeeded in detecting traces of the gas.
The team admitted that the finding “did not prove the presence of life” on Venus but did provide an indication of the presence of “anomalous and unexplained chemistry” in its atmosphere, implying that there is a strong likelihood that microbes could exist there.
The research, published in Nature Astronomy used several models to explain the phospine production but lead author Jane Greaves, from Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, told AFP that the presence of phosphine alone was not proof of life on Earth’s next-door neighbor.
“I don’t think we can say that – even if a planet was abundant in phosphorus, it might lack something else important to life – some other element, or conditions might be too hot, too dry,” she said.