Life on Venus? Maybe.

Staff Writer: Owen Wenzel

According to, scientists at NASA used telescopes to detect phosphine, a toxic gas long proposed as a possible sign of alien microbial life, in the upper part of the planet’s thick atmosphere. The detection was a landmark in the long hunt for life elsewhere in the solar system, which has mostly focused attention on Mars and a few moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn.

Meanwhile, Venus, hot and poisonous, was long considered too inhospitable for anything to survive. But now, digging through archival NASA data, Rakesh Mogul, a biochemist at Cal Poly Pomona in California, and colleagues have found a hint of phosphine picked up by Pioneer 13 — a probe that reached Venus in December 1978. 

Mogul and his colleagues also found hints of other chemicals that shouldn’t arise naturally in Venus’ clouds — substances like chlorine, oxygen, and hydrogen peroxide. “We believe this to be an indication of chemistries not yet discovered,” they wrote, “and/or chemistries potentially favorable for life.”  

However, some researchers question this hypothesis, and they suggest instead that the gas could result from unexplained atmospheric or geologic processes on a planet that remains mysterious. This is a possible explanation for the phosphine detected in the thick Venus atmosphere. 

Yet, according to, some scientists think the planet was relatively Earth-like for long stretches in the ancient past before a runaway greenhouse effect transformed the Venusian surface into a lead-melting hellscape. But the timing and other details of this transition remain elusive, so the planet’s true astrobiological potential, both now and in the past, is tough to assess. 

Pioneer 13 dropped a large probe (the LNMS) into Venus’ clouds; suspended from a parachute, the probe collected data and beamed it back to Earth as it plummeted toward its robotic death. (Three smaller probes also dropped from Pioneer 13 without parachutes.) The LNMS sampled the atmosphere and ran those samples through mass spectrometry, a standard lab technique used to identify unknown chemicals. When scientists first described the LNMS results in the 1970s, they didn’t discuss phosphorus-based compounds like phosphine, focusing instead on other chemicals. 
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Most people tend to think of Venus as completely uninhabitable, given that its surface temperature hovers around 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Venus hasn’t really been looked at like Mars has, for a possibility of life. However, this new discovery of  phosphine gas on Venus could potentially change everything. 
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It seems as if potential life has been on Venus for around 42 years. If this is the case, this is a tremendous discovery for NASA. Which is a giant step in the stage of space exploration.  “With this potential life found on Venus, do you think it is a possibility for there to be even more potential life on other planets?” 

Blayce Wood said, “Obviously, there are more solar systems than that of what we are aware of, all which contain planets leading to the possibility of containing forms of life, whether it be microorganisms or animal-like life forms.” 

Davis Lesak said, “Given the circumstance, it is not out of place to say that life isn’t limited to Venus, in my mind, life can adapt anywhere and can take all different forms. 

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