Potential Life on Venus


This image is courtesy of scientificamerican.com

Caterina Varsos

Are macroscopic organisms alive on Venus? Though Venus may seem too inhospitable for anything to survive, there may be hope yet.  Live Science states that this hope comes in the form of phosphine, a toxic gas long proposed as a possible sign of alien microbial life. According to Letzer, astrobiologists are responsible for finding life, or “weird life” (unlike life as we know it). There have been recent calls for scientists “to broaden their paradigms” when searching for these alternate life forms.

How does phosphine support life? The detection of phosphine could point to such extra-terrestrial “aerial” life. “Aerial” life would be defined as life that exists in the atmosphere whose habitat is contained within the clouds on Venus rather than the surface. This is an important distinction to make because it shows diverse types of life rather than just life in different habitats. 

Scientists are debating what criteria to use for life. Fossil-like patterns inside the rock did not necessarily point to the existence of alien life. Life as we currently know it requires water in order to survive. Water dissolves and transports chemicals to and from a cell. High temperatures quickly evaporate water; Venus is 471℃. At about 125℃, protein and carbohydrate molecules and genetic material start to break apart. Venus is inhospitable for human life based on current scientific knowledge. 

Perhaps an alternate form of life found a way to adapt to Venus’s conditions. An astronaut couldn’t travel to Venus to determine this directly; computer science and technology would have to get involved. If there was life on Venus, this could open up more opportunities for discovery in outer space as well as in astrobiology. Technology would also advance, and we could potentially travel to other planets one day. Is it safe to assume we are the only life form out there?