At the start of 2020, approximately 3,784 years ago in subjective time, evidence of extraterrestrial life within our own solar system would have been treated as a mind-blowing revelation, but now it seems like something perfectly plausible within the parameters of this surreal mire of a year we’ve had. Nevertheless, astronomers have detected signs of what they believe could indicate the presence of life on Venus.
The planet was previously considered uninhabitable due to its inhospitable conditions, including an atmosphere consisting almost entirely of carbon dioxide, a surface pressure equivalent to 3,000 feet underwater on Earth, a landscape regularly reshaped by violent volcanic activity and a mean surface temperature of 867ºF (464ºC). Despite this, the detection of phosphine in the atmosphere has led scientists to believe that life could be forming in the vast clouds of sulfur that obscure the planet from view.
Phosphine is a flammable and toxic gas made from phosphorus and hydrogen, and due to the concentration of the chemical found over Venus being higher than is possible for the planet to produce without additional factors, a theory was put forward that its presence could be explained by a form of photochemistry or geochemistry yet to be discovered. Essentially, the gas could indicate alien life since nothing we currently know about could produce it in the quantity measured in the circumstances available.
Of course, the prospect of extraterrestrial life has been a staple of science fiction for well over a century, with Venus itself playing a significant role early in many classic novels such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Amtor series of planetary romances and C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra. Or more recently in the likes of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, where the planet has been colonized, and in The Expanse series of books and their TV show adaptation, where the alien protomolecule establishes itself on Venus and begins constructing a stargate.
For decades, humanity has always considered that the best chance of locating any form of alien life would be somewhere on Mars or the moons of the gas giants. But perhaps we were looking in the wrong direction the whole time?