The Quest for Life on Venus

One evening in 2017, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawai’i turned its 15-meter dish towards the bright-yellow dot of Venus. The telescope’s devices dutifully recorded the sunshine coming from the planet for Jane Greaves, an astronomer and astrobiologist at Cardiff University in Wales. Greaves and her group have been wanting for a little-known chemical known as phosphine. On Earth, you could find phosphine in swamps, the place micro organism produce it as a waste product. It’s additionally manufactured as an industrial fumigant to rid homes of moths, beetles, and fruit flies.For many years, some scientists have theorized that Venus might harbor life in its higher ambiance, the place temperatures and pressures are benign regardless of the hellscape beneath. Nothing we all know of on Venus might produce greater than only a hint of phosphine—except there’s something residing within the planet’s pale clouds.A 12 months later, as Greaves sat alone in her workplace, she noticed what she was wanting for in her Venus knowledge: indications of phosphine. It wasn’t a robust sign, however it positively appeared to be there. “I spent ages thinking there was nothing there, but one evening, I was pushing the data around, and suddenly, I realized it all came together,” Greaves instructed The Planetary Society. “That just blew me away. There really was phosphine.” Venus, as soon as hoped to harbor paradise, was written off as probably the most inhospitable place within the photo voltaic system. But Greaves’ discovering has renewed curiosity in a planet some scientists say has been uncared for for far too lengthy. Did life ever flourish on Venus, and is there one thing nonetheless alive in its clouds, or will these newest findings solely add to an extended listing of false hopes?Before the Space Age, scientists thought of Venus as Earth’s sister
planet, maybe even liveable like our personal. The two rocky worlds share
practically the identical measurement and density, and since a thick veil of clouds
shrouds Venus’ floor, some hoped that the world subsequent door was a
tropical paradise with oceans and considerable vegetation. NASA’s Mariner 2 spacecraft, the very first profitable planetary
mission, dashed this idyllic view in December 1962. The probe flew previous
Venus, recording temperatures of not less than 150 to 200 levels Celsius
(300 to 400 levels Fahrenheit) and a punishing atmospheric strain 20
instances that of Earth’s.“Venus Says No,” lamented a headline within the New York Times, opining that Mariner 2’s “message from Venus may mark the beginning of the end of mankind’s grand romantic dreams.” Some scientists remained hopeful. In 1963, a younger Harvard assistant
professor named Carl Sagan—nonetheless years away from changing into a well known
science communicator—conjectured within the NASA movie The Clouds of Venus
that the planet’s harsh circumstances would possibly solely exist within the ambiance.
“It is simply doable that the floor temperature might then be virtually
Earthlike and life as we all know it might exist there,” he mentioned. “However,
it’s extra possible that if there’s life on Venus, it’s in all probability of a
kind that we couldn’t now think about.”

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