No, we haven’t (yet) found life on Venus

No space or astronomy enthusiast will have been able to escape this announcement of September 14, 2020, repeated in many media. Phosphine (of formula PH3), gas produced by biological processes on Earth, has been detected by spectroscopic methods in the atmosphere of Venus. This work was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

It did not take less to cause a media tsunami. We have seen all the press headlines: “Form of life in the atmosphere of Venus” for the more daring, “traces of life” or even “possible signs of life” … the more cautious, them, will have at least added a question mark.

Why it’s more subtle. The authors of the study themselves are cautious: “This phosphine could come from an unknown photochemical or geochemical process, or else, by analogy with the biological production of phosphine on Earth, from the presence of life.”

Several outside commentators, such as the planetology researcher Franck Selsis, recall that phosphine alone is insufficient to represent a bio-signature, because it is not because life can produce this molecule on Earth that its discovery on Venus necessarily implies extra-terrestrial life … Before titling on the possibility of extraterrestrial life, it will therefore require many additional observations, especially since the processes of the Venusian atmosphere are still poorly understood by the scientific community.

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Read the study in Nature Astronomy

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