NASA Considering Mission To Venus After Recent Possible Discovery Of Life
Astronomers discovered possible signs of alien life on Venus. Now, NASA is considering launching missions to the planet.
Earlier this week, an international team – led by Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University – found phosphine gas in Venus’s thick, toxic, acidic clouds, a molecule which is also produced on Earth by bacteria living in similar oxygen-free environments.
Until this revelation, the search for life beyond our own world primarily focused on Mars. However, with such compelling possibilities under the Venusian atmosphere, the space body is looking to shift its focus.
While Venus’s natural chemistry is still deliberated, meaning the recent discovery could simply be explained by a ready prevalence of phosphorus, Dr William Bains at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claimed that there was no natural way to produce the level of gas detected in the atmosphere.
Professor Greaves earlier told Sky News:
This was an experiment made out of pure curiosity, really – taking advantage of the [James Clerk Maxwell Telescope’s] powerful technology. I thought we’d just be able to rule out extreme scenarios, like the clouds being stuffed full of organisms. When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’ spectrum, it was a shock!
This week’s findings saw NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweet that it’s ‘time to prioritise Venus’, adding that selecting prospective missions will be difficult, albeit ‘the process will be fair and unbiased’.
He wrote: ‘The discovery of phosphine, a byproduct of anaerobic biology, is the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth. About 10 years ago NASA discovered microbial life at 120,000ft in Earth’s upper atmosphere.’
On NASA’s website, it notes that it ‘was not involved in the research and cannot comment directly on the findings; however, we trust in the scientific peer review process and look forward to the robust discussion that will follow its publication’.
Back in February, the US space agency actually shortlisted four planetary missions, two of which involve sending probes to Venus. One such operation, named DAVINCI+, would see an unmanned craft enter the Venusian atmosphere.
David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist currently working on the proposal for DAVINCI+, explained that it’s ‘the logical one to choose if you’re motivated in part by wanting to follow this up – because the way to follow this up is to actually go there and see what’s going on in the atmosphere,’ Reuters reports.
The second Venus mission is called VERITAS, intended to survey the planet’s wider geological history as opposed to directly following up on the astronomers’ recent discovery. At the time of writing, neither has been approved – however, NASA says both could be given the go-ahead.
The other proposals feature IVO, which would be a mission to Jupiter’s Io moon, and Trident, which would see a probe fly by Neptune’s Triton moon.
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