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Life on Venus?

This discovery could change everything. At the very least, it could change what we know about how chemicals are synthesized under heat and pressure. Or it could be a sign of alien life.

Most of the headlines highlight the latter possibility.

Space.com offers Life on Venus? Breakthrough Initiatives funds study of possible biosignature detection and Strange chemical in clouds of Venus defies explanation. Could it be a sign of life?

The Atlantic has, Scientists Find a Possible Sign of Life on Venus.

Wired has a story about ‘Dr. Phosphine’ and the Possibility of Life on Venus.

MIT News says Astronomers may have found a signature of life on Venus.

Astrobiology Web tones it down with Phosphine On Venus Cannot Be Explained By Conventional Processes.

National Geographic gives us Possible sign of life on Venus stirs up heated debate.

NPR offers A Possible Sign Of Life Right Next Door To Earth, On Venus.

Time Magazine anticipates the next step with Signs of Life on Venus Hint at Biology Pretty Much Anywhere in the Universe.

All of these are reactions to a study published this week in Nature Astronomy, with a much more prosaic title: Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus.

Phosphine is a chemical compound made up of one part phosphorus and three parts hydrogen. Described that way, it doesn't sound like anything to get excited about. It's known to exist on Jupiter and Saturn, and now Venus. It also exists on earth, in small quantities.

So how do we connect the dots from phosphine to aliens?

As chemist Lisa Pecher explains, chemical synthesis of phosphine—as far as we know—can only take place in extremely hot conditions. Venus is hot, about 900 degress farenheit at the surface, but it's not hot enough to make phosphine. However, there is a process that can create phosphine at much milder temperatures. On earth, phosphine is produced by bacteria living in oxygen-starved environments.

Is the phosphine on Venus being created by bacteria as well? If so, this is the first evidence of life outside of our planet. If it's being produced purely through chemical processes, it's a chance to learn about a new type of chemical process never before observed. Either way, it's a discovery that deserves further research.

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