Local scientist discusses signs of life on Venus

Emily Putnam
Updated: September 16, 2020 09:48 AM
Created: September 16, 2020 07:56 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A new study released this week reveals a chemical in Venus’ atmosphere that could mean life is present on the planet.

Phosphine, a gas, was discovered in the planet’s atmosphere. It’s a chemical compound that occurs naturally on Earth and on other planets in the solar system. The gas can be caused by a number of things including lightning strikes, volcanic eruptions and living organisms.


According to Director of Strasenburgh Planetarium at the Rochester Museum and Science Center Steve Fentress, scientists researched those possibilities but “none of those could produce as much phosphine as they [the scientists] observed.”

Other places where the chemical is found usually have high levels of hydrogen present, since the chemical is made of hydrogen and phosphorus. Venus, however, does not have much hydrogen present in its atmosphere, thus making this discovery very significant for the scientific community.

“This is not E.T. phoning home,” Fentress said. “This is a sign, a gas known to be produced by bacteria on Earth and wasn’t expected to be able to survive the atmosphere of Venus.”

Venus, sometimes referred to as “Earth’s twin,” is almost exactly the same size as our planet but much, much hotter. The surface of Venus runs over 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The chemical was not discovered on the surface, but over 30 miles above the surface in the planet’s cooler atmosphere.

Fentress will answer questions about the discovery during a livestream at 1 p.m. on Sept. 17 on the RMSC’s Facebook page.

For more information on the discovery, click here.  

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