The phosphine gas discovery was confirmed by the Chilean telescope and suggests that the clouds of Venus could harbor life
It is an extraordinary possibility: the idea that living organisms are floating in the clouds of the planet Venus.
But this is precisely what is being considered by astronomers after they detected a substance in the atmosphere that they cannot explain.
It is a gas known as phosphane or phosphine (PH3), a molecule made up of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms.
On Earth, phosphine is associated with life, in microbes that live in the guts of animals such as penguins or in oxygen-poor environments such as swamps.
It is a gas that can be produced industrially, of course. But on Venus there are no factories; and there are certainly no penguins.
So how is it possible that this gas is there, 50 km from the surface of our planet?
Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University (UK) and her colleagues are asking the same question.
And they have published an article in the journal Nature Astronomy that details their findings about phosphine on Venus, as well as the various investigations they have done to try to show that this molecule could have a natural and non-biological origin.
Due to all that is known about Venus, no one has managed to explain an abiotic pathway to phosphine. Not in the quantities that have been detected.