GENERATIONS of scientists and space explorers have long dreamed of finding evidence of life elsewhere in our solar system. Now, a discovery on our neighbour planet has sparked hope those dreams could be coming true.


What has been found?

Traces of phosphine, a rare and toxic gas, have been detected in the clouds above Venus, the rocky planet about the same size and mass of Earth that comes closest to Earth than any other as it sweeps past on its orbit.



It is a colourless gas that smells vile - along the lines of rotting fish - and can be found in the likes of pond slime. On Earth, it can be made through some industrial processes but it is also created by living organisms, including bacteria and microbes. As a result, it is regarded as a reliable “biosignature” or indication of life.


Which means?

Experts say the finding offers a hint of alien life, as the sheer amount of phosphine in Venus’s atmosphere cannot be explained non-biologically, suggesting the planet must support unknown chemical processes, or even life.


Who has carried out the research?

An international team of researchers led by Professor Jane Greaves from Cardiff University have reported their findings in an article, Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus, published in the journal, Nature Astronomy.


Is Venus hospitable?

Far from it. The second-closest planet to the Sun, it has a surface temperature around 867°F (464°C) and pressure 92 times that on Earth. But around 40 miles above the surface, it is around 120°F (50°C), with a pressure equal to that at Earth sea level. Past research has concluded that Venus may have had surface water and been habitable for around three billion years and may have been in this condition until 750 million years ago, so it’s possible life could certainly have existed there previously.


So what do the experts say?

They have called for caution and more investigation, writing that it “is not robust evidence for life, only for anomalous and unexplained chemistry” as life is only one possible explanation, with further investigation required.



The US space agency had been considering two missions to Venus to study the planet's atmosphere and geochemistry and the research team are hopeful these mission will steam ahead after their findings. In light of the Venus findings, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that is "time to prioritise Venus”. 


Have we been to Venus before?

Venus lies 162 million miles away and takes about three months to reach, but humans have never made the voyage, only spacecraft. The Soviet probe Lander was a success in 1985 and sent back images, as well as atmospheric and surface data.


Excitement is still high over the latest find, though?

Astronomer Alan Duffy, of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, said: “This is one of the most exciting signs of the possible presence of life beyond Earth I have ever seen - and certainly from the most surprising location I could imagine.”