Life on Venus?

October 23, 2020
ON ANOTHER PLANET Venus, the second planet from our sun, is surrounded by a thick layer of clouds.
J. GREAVES—CARDIFF UNIVERSITY/JAXA/AP

Are we alone in the universe? Scientists have spent years searching deep into space for signs of life beyond our planet. Now they’ve found what might be life right next door.

On September 14, scientists reported a big discovery. A gas was found in the clouds of Venus. It’s called phosphine. On Earth, the gas is made by living things. It comes from places such as swamps and animals’ intestines.

Scientists can’t yet prove that life on Venus is what’s producing the phosphine. But they can’t explain the gas in any other way, either.

Sara Seager is a planetary scientist. She helped discover the phosphine on Venus. “It is a big deal,” she told TIME for Kids. “Phosphine is such a mysterious gas, and it shouldn’t be on Venus.”

The Meaning of Life

Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system. It’s also one of the brightest objects in the night sky. The planet is surrounded by thick clouds. Until recently, no one thought there could be life on Venus. People thought the clouds were too toxic for a living thing to survive there.

Clara Sousa-Silva is an astrochemist. She was also on the team that spotted phosphine in Venus’s clouds. She has spent her career looking for signs of life in space. “I hadn’t considered our solar system was a good place to look for life,” Sousa-Silva says. “And definitely not Venus because Venus is so awful.”

Missions to Venus could find out more about the gas. If there’s life on the planet, scientists would expect it to be something like bacteria.

Discovering life beyond Earth would teach us more about our place in the universe. To Sousa-Silva, it would say something about our importance. “I like finding out that we as humans aren’t that special,” she says. “There’s a big universe out there filled with all sorts of other life with different needs and desires.”

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