Further Life on Venus Studies Have Been Funded

The nonprofit, Breakthrough Initiatives, has released the next steps following the discovery of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere, according to Space.com.In a statement, Executive Director of Breakthrough Initiatives, Pete Worden, shared the future plans for studying Venus. “We have what could be a biosignature, and a plausible story about how it got there. The next step is to do the basic science needed to thoroughly investigate the evidence and consider how best to confirm and expand on the possibility of life.”

Breakthrough Initiatives will fund a team of scientists to study phosphine on the planet, with MIT planetary scientist and a member of the team who discovered the phosphine, Sara Seager, leading the research team.

“The group will investigate the scientific case for life and analyze the technical challenges of an exploratory mission in the event that such evidence proves compelling,” the statement also revealed. The amount of funding and the length of the study has yet to be disclosed.

Original story follows:

Scientists may have discovered signs of life on Venus, and if confirmed, the scorching planet could be a new focus for the search for life on other planets.

According to an in-depth report from NYTimes on two recent published papers, researchers have discovered phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus, which suggests some form of life on the planet. Considering phosphine is often a creation of bacteria and microbes – also known as living organisms – the researchers involved in the study believe any life on Venus would have to exist, “inside cloud liquid droplets for the majority of its life cycle,” according to the paper in Nature Astronomy.

“This is an astonishing and ‘out of the blue’ finding,” Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an author of the papers told the NYTimes. “It will definitely fuel more research into the possibilities for life in Venus’s atmosphere.”

Astrophysicist at San Francisco State University and University of San Francisco, Aaron White, talked with IGN about why this discovery is such a huge deal and what it means for the future of space exploration.

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“One of astronomy’s biggest unanswered questions is whether life on Earth is rare and unique, or if we’re just one of many places all throughout the universe filled with living things,” White said. “This discovery is the most solid evidence we’ve had so far to suggest life could be common. There are several different places in our solar system where we’ve guessed life could be discovered, and Venus was definitely the most hostile place we could have found it.”

White said there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to confirm this hypothesis, “but if it holds up, it could mean life is hardy enough to show up wherever it’s even vaguely possible.”

Lack of Confirmation, But More Exploration of Phosphine

“Even though Venus is our closest neighbor, there’s still a lot of things we don’t know about the planet,” White explained. “Over the last few decades there’s only been a small handful of space missions that have gone to explore it (compared to a few dozen that have gone to Mars), so this discovery is really going to motivate more spacecraft that will look closely at Venus’s clouds and what lies below them, and help fill in some of the gaps in our understanding. It’s also going to motivate us even more to investigate the other places in the solar system where we expect life could be hiding out.

“There was a study released last year suggesting that this particular chemical was a prime candidate in the search for life on planets outside our solar system, so this is likely to really kickstart lots of work into looking for it on distant planets as well,” White said.

White was very clear that this is not a confirmation of life on Venus. “This is a detection of a weird chemical in Venus’s atmosphere that we can’t explain yet. The team stressed that they *aren’t* claiming to have found life,” he said.

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Those hoping to see aliens, or Destiny guardians thinking this is their chance, shouldn’t get too excited, as even if it did turn out that some form of alien life exists on Venus, the average temperature on the planet is over 800 degrees Fahrenheit, and the atmosphere’s pressure is over 1,300 pounds per square inch, which the NYTimes explains is the equivalent to being 3,000 feet underwater.

Where Do Scientists Go From Here in Venus’ Atmosphere?

“Now that this work has been released, other scientists in the field are going to be spending the coming weeks and months trying to work out any possible non-biological ways to generate the chemistry that was observed,” White explained. “That said… outside of something like a snarling Xenomorph showing up on our doorstep, this is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to see as the first step towards finding life, and the biggest step forward we’ve taken in finding signs that we’re not alone in the Universe.”

If the thought of alien life on Venus has you wanting some more off-world science, be sure to check out our list of the 25 best sci-fi movies and then read about how some scientists claim there’s evidence of a parallel universe where time runs backward. For more planetary science, read about a recent report that claims the moon is rusting and then check out this story about 139 minor planets at the edge of our solar system.

For further questions on this new discovery or anything to do with space, connect with Astrophysicist Aaron White on Twitter @Astrowut.

Jessie Wade is Home Editor at IGN and the science gal. Chat with her on Twitter @jessieannwade.

Wesley LeBlanc is a freelance news writer and guide maker for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @LeBlancWes.


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