By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

There have been some recent reports about the possibility of life on Venus. Is this an empirically verified or confirmed assertion from some recent news reportage? First things first: definitions. The question is not necessarily, “What is life?”, but rather, who studies that which has been defined as “life” on planets other than Earth? Those folks are called astrobiologists.

Astrobiologists have looked for Earth-like planets as obvious life-harbouring candidates because the form of “life” as we know it comes from Earth. However, astrobiologists have also been working for some time on hypothetical scenarios outside of the N of 1 seen in the carbon-based life on Earth. Recent reports seem to suggest that there is a potential signature of life on Venus, our very non-Earth-like neighbour.

The key points of the reports, including those in Scientific American, centre on the detection of phosphine, “at an altitude where temperatures and pressures are similar to those here on Earth at sea level.” A detection of phosphine means a potential “biosignature,” literally a “signature of life.”

The alternative is an “exotic” chemical reaction mimicking the signifiers of life without, in fact, originating from the processes of some form of microbes. After some preliminary research, Jane Greaves, an astronomer at the University of Cardiff in the U.K., and colleagues found more phosphine than expected, supporting the case for life on Venus.

Is there life on Venus? Maybe. Pete Worden, executive director of the nonprofit Breakthrough Initiatives, said, “We have what could be a biosignature, and a plausible story about how it got there… The next step is to do the basic science needed to thoroughly investigate the evidence and consider how best to confirm and expand on the possibility of life.”