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Life on Venus? New updates on the search

You can find the molecule phosphine in some interesting places: insecticides, penguin tummies, and possibly the clouds of Venus.

Phosphine can be a byproduct of living things, so finding it in Venus’ clouds could possibly indicate something alive floating around the planet. Venus’ surface is inhospitable, but there are regions in the cloud decks where temperatures and pressures are similar to those found on Earth.

Astronomer and astrobiologist Jane Greaves led the team that announced the discovery of phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere in 2020. She began including a picture of a penguin in her talks to illustrate one of the places you can find phosphine, and it caught on as a meme.

“I’m afraid we did confuse people, rather, with this penguin idea,” she said during an American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting presentation in June. “We did not in fact suggest there are penguins flying desperately, flapping above the surface of Venus.”

What she does suggest is that there is solid evidence for phosphine in the Venusian clouds. In the two years since her original phosphine paper garnered great interest from the public and scientific community, many other scientists studied the paper and did their own research. Some scientists supported while others questioned the validity of the detection of phosphine.

In her AAS talk, Greaves outlined the story thus far and presented new findings in support of her phosphine in the clouds of Venus.

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Photo by Xu Haiwei on Unsplash