Possible signs of life on Venus

CLARA SOUSA-SILVA: Finding
signs of life on other planetsbeyond the Earth would be a
way of answering the biggestquestions that we’ve
had as a species so far. Where do we come from?Are we alone?Of course these questions
are not the exclusive purviewof scientists. People have been asking
them for as long asis any record of them being
able to ask these questions. What is special about this
moment and our role in itas scientist, is that
for the first timewe’re actually able, because
we have the tools to answerthese questions. JANUSZ PETKOWSKI: So a group of
scientists, led by Jane Greavesfrom the University of Cardiff,
were looking for signs,for chemical signs on Venus,
that shouldn’t belong there. And one of such
molecules is phosphine. And they, unexpectedly,
they actuallywere able to find a signal
that belongs to this molecule. So then, we raced
to figure out whatcould be the reason
for phosphine on Venus. And this is where
our MIT team comes. When we actually looked at all
kinds of processes, chemicaland physical, that could
potentially produce phosphinein Venusian environments. This is a atmosphere. The surface of the planet is
completely, completely uninhabited. The atmosphere is the only
place in which life actuallycould in principle exist. There is a belt of clouds. And we concluded that there is
no known chemical and physicalprocess that could
conceivably produce phosphine. So this adds to the
mystery of Venus. And then, this opens a
rather bold possibilitythat there might be something
living in the clouds of Venus. CLARA SOUSA-SILVA: Phosphine
is my favorite molecule. And it looks more
or less like this,a phosphorous atom on
top, and three hydrogensin the base of this pyramid. And phosphine is an extremely
difficult molecule to make. It is only spontaneously
made in extreme environments. Such as what you find in the
hellish depths of Jupiterand Saturn. It is otherwise only made either
naturally by life on Earthor artificially by humans,
as a fumigant for example. JANUSZ PETKOWSKI:
So the questionis why it is actually
a staggering discovery. Why it is so important?Well, there are a couple of
angles that you can actuallyanswer that question. One, the first,
is that phosphineis absolutely unexpected. It cannot be produced
on the rocky planets. At least we don’t know of
any known processes, chemicalor physical, that can
produce phosphine. Which means, either
our understandingof the physics and chemistry
of the rocky planetsis severely
incomplete, or there issome chemistry, that is so
unbelievably weird, that itcould even be life. CLARA SOUSA-SILVA: If we
have indeed found lifeoutside the Earth, it puts our
own existence into perspective. But it also tells us that
life would be much morecommon than we first imagined. And there is a huge
array of possibilitiesout there in the galaxy of life
with different biochemistriesand desire. And of course, if
we have found liferight next door in a
planetary neighbor,that would be so cool.

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