Signs of 'alien life' appear on Venus after breakthrough


As if 2020 wasn't bonkers enough...

Scientists have discovered a rare molecule in the clouds of Venus, which suggests colonies of living microbes could be thriving.

The alien life could be living in the oxygen-free environment high in the planet's atmosphere.

The surface of Venus is far too hot to sustain life - it's just a toasty 464C, no biggie.

But astronomers have speculated that life could survive high in the planet's atmosphere where conditions are much more moderate.

An international team of astronomers led by Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University have announced the discovery of phosphine gas in these high clouds.

Phosphine gas is a molecule which is produced on Earth by microbes that live in similar oxygen-free environments.
A hobby astronomer points his telescope at the yellow disk of the rising sun as he observes the transit of planet Venus. Photo: Hendrik Schmidt

These molecules were first detected by the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope near Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

"This was an experiment made out of pure curiosity, really - taking advantage of the JCMT's powerful technology," said Professor Greaves, per Sky News.

"I thought we'd just be able to rule out extreme scenarios, like the clouds being stuffed full of organisms. When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus' spectrum, it was a shock!"

The team have warned that natural processes couldn't be ruled out due to the lack of information about the prevalence of phosphorus on Venus.

Microbial life on Venus is expected to be very different to that on Earth, however.

It would need to survive in the hyper-acidic conditions of the planet's clouds - made almost entirely from sulphuric acid.


Professor Emma Bunce, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, congratulated the team on their work.

She also called for a new mission to Venus to investigate their findings.

"A key question in science is whether life exists beyond Earth, and the discovery by Professor Jane Greaves and her team is a key step forward in that quest," said Professor Bunce.

"I'm particularly delighted to see UK scientists leading such an important breakthrough - something that makes a strong case for a return space mission to Venus," she added.