Scientists find possible life on Venus

Morning star: Venus is one of the brightest objects in the sky, often visible in broad daylight. © NASA

Is there life on our neighbouring planet? A gas floating through the clouds high above the surface of Venus could be a sign of life – but aliens might not look exactly the way we usually imagine them.

What’s happening

Venus is an unusual place to look for living things. It is a scorching wasteland of rocks and thick cloud. Temperatures reach up to 450C .

Above the surface, though, a mysterious gas floats among thick clouds of sulphuric acid. It’s called phosphine, and it could be the key to life.

Find out more

Phosphine is made up of phosphorus and oxygen. On Earth, it is only produced where there is life: sometimes it is found in swamps and ponds. It can even be produced in penguins’ stomachs.

So, what is it doing in the clouds above Venus?

That is what a group of scientists is trying to work out. They first spotted the phosphine in 2017. Two years later, they confirmed their discovery with the Alma telescope.

“Finding a gas like this on Venus is really exciting because of the possibility that it could also have been produced by life,” explained one member of the team.

But others are less confident. The clouds above Venus are filled with toxic gas. Anything living there would need extreme protection from it.

Is there life on Venus?

Some say…

Probably not. The clouds above Venus are filled with poisonous sulphuric acid. It is unlikely anything could survive in there. The phosphine is probably the result of a natural chemical reaction we have not yet discovered. Besides, we have spent over 100 years looking for aliens and never found them. We should give up searching.

Others think…

Let’s not give up hope! Astronomers have tried to find more boring explanations for the phosphine – with no luck. It is looking more likely that the gas could be produced by something living. The acidic clouds would mean any microbes living there would be well protected. We should expect life on Venus to be unlike anything we’ve seen on Earth.

You Decide

  1. If alien life exists, would it be a good idea to try to make contact?

Activities

  1. Imagine an alien has just landed on Earth. Assuming it can speak English, write it a set of instructions for how to manage on your planet.

Some People Say...

“I believe alien life is quite common in the universe.”

Stephen Hawking

What do you think?

Word Watch

Scorching
To scorch is to burn something. If something is scorching, it is hot enough to burn you.
Sulphuric acid
An acid that is poisonous to most living things on Earth.
Phosphorus
A substance that is a chemical element. Phosphorus is important to living things. It is used in fertilisers to help plants grow.
Spotted
Noticed. Astronomers were using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope to look at Venus. It is the largest telescope in the world.
Alma
This is a telescope in Chile, designed for looking carefully at gasses that surround distant planets – the perfect telescope for looking at the phosphine more closely.
Toxic
Another word for very poisonous.

Subjects

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