Alien life breakthrough as clue found on Earth’s ‘hellish twin planet’ Venus

Scientists believe they have made a major breakthrough in the search for life on alien planets.

A team, including experts from the UK and the United States, claim the atmosphere of the planet Venus contains a chemical key for supporting life.

A press release, which came out on Monday at the Royal Astronomical Society in London, reports that phosphine has been discovered in the planet's atmosphere.

Phosphine, a colourless, flammable gas, is highly toxic.

But perhaps surprisingly, its presence has indicated to scientists Venus may be able to support life as we know it in space.

The presence of phosphine is seen by many astrobiologists as a so-called "biosignature" – an indicator of the possible presence of life.

It was detected by the Atacama (ALMA) array located in Chile and James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii.

The research team includes members from the University of Manchester, Cardiff University and the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology (MIT).

A paper on the findings has appeared in the latest issue of Nature Astronomy published today.

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Researchers have found that so much phosphine has been discovered in Venus' atmosphere that abiotic mechanisms – which don't involve life but might produce phosphine – can't account for all of it.

The phosphine detected in the region with the planet's atmosphere is considered by some to be potentially habitable.

Venus, a toxic and overheated planet where temperatures at the surface can often hit heights of 427C, has long been considered by scientists to be somewhere no living thing could survive.

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The surface has no breathable air, but scientists believe small liveable pockets could be uncovered in its atmosphere.

In the past, NASA has even proposed creating a "cloud city" above the surface of Venus by sending an instrument which can hang at an altitude around 30 miles above the planet surface.

Recently, research published by top MIT astronomer Sara Seager visualised what life could be like above the surface of Venus.

Sara and her team suggest living microbes could only survive inside liquid droplets.

The paper's summary read: "We propose for the first time that the only way life can survive indefinitely is with a life cycle that involves microbial life drying out as liquid droplets evaporate during settling, with the small desiccated 'spores' halting at, and partially populating the Venus atmosphere stagnant lower haze layer."

NASA is reportedly considering a mission to study Venus and its clouds.

The mission, dubbed Veritas, is set to launch in 2026 and will hopefully lead to the creation of ultra-detailed maps of the planet and its atmosphere.

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