Gather ‘round nerds, as we have a reason to rejoice!
Yesterday, a study revealed that the clouds covering Venus contain Phosphine – a chemical byproduct of biological life. If only Carl Sagan was alive to witness this groundbreaking moment… since he was the first person to ever suggested that there’s life on Venus, over 50 years ago!
If your memory is hazy, let us remind you who the great Carl Sagan was. For starters, he was the presenter of the most-viewed-ever PBS series, Cosmos. He was also an author of a book titled Contact. He decided to become an astronomer after getting inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ space fantasies, based on Mars and Venus. Well, imagine how many people got inspired by Sagan and joined astronomical ventures – the circle of life!
He wasn’t just a science geek who studied the cosmic energies for kicks. He was, in fact, one of the first few who actually unveiled a proof of life on Mars. He also made revelations about the surface of Venus being crystal hot – way before NASA’s probe in 1962!
And – wait for it – he was the first scientist to witness Venus’ hellscape due to a runaway greenhouse effect. You can say that he knew how badly Earth’s climate was going to get affected in the future. In addition, he had proposed that Earth’s sister planet gives an indication of microbial life.
In his 1967 paper, he wrote: "If small amounts of minerals are stirred up to the clouds from the surface, it is by no means difficult to imagine an indigenous biology in the clouds of Venus. While the surface conditions of Venus make the hypothesis of life there implausible, the clouds of Venus are a different story altogether."
He made this prediction two years before the moon landing!
He predicted that there’s a high carbon-dioxide atmosphere on Venus and it’s nothing to be worried about. He even claimed that at the top of the Venus Clouds, the conditions are almost similar to Earth – meaning hospitable!
He then hypothesized that living organisms like bacteria can easily survive in the upper regions of Venus. In addition, he said that when you add sunlight and water vapor to CO2, you’ll give shape to the building block of life – photosynthesis!
Darby Dyar is the chairman of NASA’s Venus Exploration Advisory Group. He says: "Sagan's work on Venus was formative, though few today remember his impact. His idea was prescient, and still makes sense today: between the hellish surface conditions on present-day Venus and the near-vacuum of outer space must be a temperate region where life could live on."
11 years after this miraculous discovery, Sagan also found out about the presence of methane in the Venus atmosphere. This was a giant discovery, as it highlighted the possibility of organic material. However, at the time, scientists remained mum about the discovery as there was no practical way for them to prove that methane meant life.
Although Sagan died in 1996, his idea remained alive! By 2013, a significant amount of microbes were discovered on the sister planet. And these living microbes existed in more than 300 forms – apparently, they’re less dense at the lower altitudes.
In 2016, NASA had discovered that Venus used to have oceans at one point of time – for 2 billion years, to be exact. Due to this, another theory was brought to life by David Grinspoon – he suggested the microbial life migrated to the clouds after the conditions at the surface got worse.
Apart from this, we’ve also made several other feats in Venus exploration. For instance, we found evidence that there are active volcanoes existent on Venus, and that they have the ability to stir up minerals into the atmosphere. We also discovered that Venus has mysterious, dark patches all over its body and that too, in large numbers.
Many people believe that Venus, despite being closer to Earth, has been shunned by NASA. They’ve used terms like Space colonization and urged scientists to look for life on Venus as well as on Mars!
Interestingly, phosphine is also found in vast amounts on Jupiter and Saturn. Nobody has yet been able to identify the actual reason.
"The exciting discovery of phosphine in the Venus atmosphere just reinforces the growing body of evidence that Venus is a likely, perhaps the most likely, other place in our solar system where life might now or in the past have existed. Venus holds the keys to our understanding of the evolution of rocky planets as homes for life. This finding may be the first of many to come as NASA and other countries renew a Venus exploration program." – says Dyar from NASA.
So far, we know that ESA, the Russian Space Agency is working along with NASA to explore Venus further.