Life on Venus: Fluke or Find?

Venus is the second planet in our solar system, and the closest in size to Earth.


Venus is the second planet in our solar system, and the closest in size to Earth.

Nick Crafa, Contributor

The notion that life may exist outside of planet Earth has piqued human interests for centuries. New technology has enabled scientists to search far beyond our solar system and examine planets light years away for possible traces of life.

A recent observation adds a twist to the long hunt for life. Venus, the closest planet in our solar system to Earth, is often referred to as Earth’s sister. This characterization was previously based on the similar size of the planets and their proximity to the Sun. Now, there could be another connection: Venus may support life. 

The existence of intelligent life on Venus is out of the question — Venus’s scalding temperatures and thick acidic clouds take care of that. Nonetheless, new evidence suggests that microorganisms may exist on this barren wasteland.

Can these new observations be trusted? That’s debatable. 

The claim that life exists on Venus isn’t founded on a discovery of life. Rather, it rests on the presence of the gas phosphine in Venus’s atmosphere. On Earth, phosphine is produced by microorganisms, which leads astronomers to believe that microorganisms are also the source of the gas on Venus, and may exist within Venus’ atmosphere. This is a broad assumption, and some researchers believe that the presence of phosphine may be the product of an unexplained chemical process.

Phosphorus (orange) bonds to three hydrogen atoms (grey) to create the gas phosphine.

Further investigations must be conducted in order to confirm that life exists on Venus. This groundbreaking observation, however, could result in a new approach to the search for life. In the modern era, scientists have searched far beyond the limits of our solar system in an attempt to find any evidence of life in the universe. It would be quite ironic to discover that that during these extensive searches, Earth’s next-door neighbor contained life. The irony aside, this finding could pave the way to new understandings of life. The benefits that accompany discovering and researching life on another planet are infinite — affirming that life exists on Venus would be a turning point for space discoveries.

On the other hand, if future investigations reveal that the gas phosphine is not coming from microorganisms and is actually the result of a yet to be discovered atmospheric or geologic process, Venus will go back to being nothing more than the second-closest planet to the Sun.

If it is confirmed that life exists on Venus, travel time would not be an obstacle to conducting research (it takes approximately 100 days to reach the planet via spacecraft). The more tantalizing issue is Venus’s environment. With a surface temperature of around 800 degrees Fahrenheit, and a surface pressure of more than 1,300 pounds per square inch, Venus is less than ideal for research. It would be painful to discover life on Venus, only to determine that it’s impossible to conduct proper investigations on Venus’s surface or atmosphere. 

Whatever the conclusion from this new discovery may be, the search for life will continue. If it means sending spacecraft to Venus to study microorganisms in its atmosphere, or using enormous telescopes to observe possible life-supporting planets light years away, life outside of Earth will remain a driving force for space exploration for years to come.