By: Jazlyn Moock
If a human were to step onto the surface of Venus, a few slight inconveniences would occur: they would suffocate from the poisonous atmosphere almost entirely composed of carbon dioxide, be crushed by the planet’s pressure 92 times greater than that of Earth’s at sea level, and practically burst into flames from the surface temperatures of 870°F—hot enough to melt lead. Along with the explosive lava eruptions from Venus’s 1,600 volcanoes and sulfuric acid rain, one would not exactly consider this devilish nightmare of a planet as “the next frontier,” or even remotely habitable for life.
Although, to the astonishment of anyone semi-knowledgeable of the conditions of Venus, new discoveries reveal that there could, in fact, be alien life on this diabolic planet.
On September 14, 2020, an international team of astronomers detected significant amounts of gas called phosphine in Venus’s thick atmosphere. While the discovery of a gas might not be as shocking or impressive as a UFO sighting or photographs of red, flaming aliens drinking sulfur dioxide sodas and magma martinis by a pool of lava, the reality of the findings could be revolutionary, due to the fact that phosphine has been used as an indicator of life here on Earth.
On our planet, this gas can only be made industrially or by microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments like swamps; yet, even on other planets—especially on a rocky one such as Venus—there are no known chemical or physical processes that could produce phosphine gas without the existence of some life form. Therefore, unless Venus has its own outlandish geochemistry that the world’s scientists are completely clueless to, there must be alien organisms living and producing phosphine gas on Venus this very second.
The measurements of phosphine gas were found in the planet’s dense cloud formations that float above the planet, which actually makes the possibility of life seem more plausible since the environments in the clouds are more hospitable with far lower temperatures and the presence of liquid molecules. Compared to the burning hellscape below, these cool, fluffy puffs would be a microbes dream world.
Numerous planetarians have theorized that these possible microorganisms could have once inhabited the surface of Venus when the planet was covered in Earth-like oceans 700 million years ago. Recent studies from 2019 concluded that the oceans lasted for around 3 billion years, until a mysterious cataclysmic event stripped away the water and provoked ferocious volcanic activity to engulf the once peaceful planet. In order to escape the fiery temperatures and dried up ground, the potential phosphine producing life forms that exist today would have had to migrate to the skies and eventually evolve with their new habitats in the sulfuric acid clouds.
The discovery of this microscopic bacteria that produces phosphine—the same chemical found in the feces of badgers and penguins and in some deep sea worms—may seem inconsequential compared to intelligent human life that can write entire scientific analyses and articles on alien life forms. Though, this research could contribute more to humanity than one could ever imagine.
If astronomers do confirm the existence of life forms on Venus, a poison-laced, deadly fireball, then the discovery of alien life on other planets does not seem as far fetched. In fact, life across the universe could be extremely common and perhaps even inevitable. Imagine all of the other diverse planetary life that could exist if there are indeed microbial, acid cloud creatures. There could be thousands and thousands of possibilities of life in the galactic neighborhood just waiting to be discovered; Earth could finally not be so alone.
Besides the potential for future discoveries of life, exploring Venus could directly aid humanity in numerous other ways. For instance, looking to Venus could provide a template for what our planet could become under the increasing threat of climate change.
Venus has been considered Earth’s evil twin sister, as it is similar in size, density, mass, and volume; yet, instead of being flourished with water and complex organisms, it is the average cut and paste image of hell. Although, one cannot forget that Venus, for 3 billion years, was filled with deep oceans and was not dissimilar to Earth. This was until shrouds of carbon dioxide encased the planet, provoking an overwhelming greenhouse effect that trapped extreme heat in the atmosphere and evaporated every drop of water. By examining Venus’s unfortunate history and understanding how it transgressed into the fiery inferno it is today, scientists might be able to predict the same grim future for Earth and take more serious steps to limit the effects of climate change and atmospheric warming.
Additionally, if the Earth is doomed for the same disastrous fate, taking a closer look at Venus, and the life that exists there, could be even more beneficial to humanity: by saving humanity itself. For years, Mars has been the poster planet for expanding the reach of civilization into space, while Venus has been neglected as a potential new home for earthlings if our planet does become inhabitable. However, the discovery of life in the clouds of Venus should be a reminder that this planet might not be as dangerous and deadly as it seemed. The almost 900°F surface still proves quite the impossible challenge for humans, yet 30 miles above the surface, the Venusian cloud tops are a perfect home and sweet spot for life. The temperature and atmospheric pressure would be suitable, the gravity would be similar to that of Earth’s, and the thick air would provide radiation shielding. NASA recognized the potential of the clouds in 2015, designing a plan to create helium-filled, blimp-like airships that could bob along the clouds, gliding with the planet’s steady wind streams. The project, called HAVOC, has the goal to eventually compose a permanent, floating city on the clouds of Earth’s twin planet.
NASA researchers have planned on covering the blimps with solar panels that would collect energy from the intense light that shines down upon the cloud formations. The inside of the blimps would be filled with a breathable Earth-like air that would also aid in their flotation in Venus’s dense atmosphere. Hydrogen and water would be collected from the sulfuric clouds for crop irrigation, and special suits would protect against the sky’s raining acid.
While sounding like a wild creation straight out of a sci-fi movie, the aerial colony could be a real possibility in the near future. With more research on how organisms would thrive in these unique conditions, humans might be able to soon visit the warm, orange and yellow skies of Earth’s hot twin sister.