Before you get too excited, scientists didn’t see little green men looking back at them through telescopes. It’s bacteria, or rather, the byproduct of bacteria, but still, it’s something.
Using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile, scientists detected phosphine, a gas produced by bacteria in oxygen-starved environments. If it works the same way on Venus, then it indicates bacteria living on that planet and would be the first confirmed sign of life on another planet.
Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Wales, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature Astronomy, said:
“I was very surprised – stunned, in fact.”
Massachusetts Institute of Technology molecular astrophysicist and study co-author Clara Sousa-Silva said:
“With what we currently know of Venus, the most plausible explanation for phosphine, as fantastical as it might sound, is life. I should emphasize that life, as an explanation for our discovery, should be, as always, the last resort. This is important because, if it is phosphine, and if it is life, it means that we are not alone. It also means that life itself must be very common, and there must be many other inhabited planets throughout our galaxy.”
Venus might be the closest neighboring planet, but it’s not conducive to life as we know it. The planet’s atmosphere traps heat, so the temperature can reach 880 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Fortunately Venus is right next door. So we can literally go and check.”
Whoever, or whatever, we send to Venus had better pack a lot of sunscreen… and an air conditioner.