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Is there life on Venus?


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Personal)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/09/26

There have been some recent reports as to the possibility of life on Venus. Is this an empirically verified or confirmed assertion from some recent news reportage? First things first, definitions, not necessarily, what is life? Instead, who studies that which has been defined as “life” on planets other than Earth? Those smarty pants are called astro-biologists with “astro-” meaning “constellation” or “star” and “-biology” meaning “study of life,” rooted in “biology” or “bio-” meaning “life” and “logy” meaning “branch of study.” Other prefixes used in place of “astro-” have been “exo-” and “xeno-” meaning “external” and “other”/“different in origin,” respectively. In this sense, astrobiology, exobiology, and xenobiology can be loosely interchangeable with astrobiology as, probably, the most used term.

So, to the question in some of the popular or mainstream reportage about Venus harbouring life, astrobiologists have looked for Earth-like planets as obvious candidates for planets harbouring life because the form of “life” known abundantly comes from Earth. As scientific skeptics, the obvious orientation on much of the popular media is, and should be, concerned skepticism and due critical thinking about the claims coming from the reportage because of the outlandish belief structures, individual beliefs, practices, and styles or processes of thinking throughout the culture, pervasive or ubiquitous. Nothing original in this orientation to the readership here.

When seeing such claims, it does seem “outlandish,” as if David Icke crawled out of the shadows and took over several news teams to froth at the mouth about aliens in the print of respectable publications, in spite of the decline in monetary funding of, professional and institutional support for, and socio-cultural trust in, media and journalism, understandably. However, astrobiologists have been working for some time on hypothetical scenarios outside of the N of 1 seen in the carbon-based life on Earth.

The key points of the reports, including Scientific Americancome from the detection of phosphine. Mike Wall stated, “On Monday (Sept. 14), researchers announced that they’d spotted the fingerprint of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere, at an altitude where temperatures and pressures are similar to those here on Earth at sea level.” If a detection of phosphine, then this means a “biosignature,” literally “signature of life.”

The preliminary discussion appears to revolve around the biosignature as truly a biosignature or as an indication of an “exotic” chemical reaction mimicking the signifiers of life without, in fact, originating from the processes of some form of microbes.

Pete Worden, executive director of the nonprofit Breakthrough Initiatives, said, “We have what could be a biosignature, and a plausible story about how it got there… The next step is to do the basic science needed to thoroughly investigate the evidence and consider how best to confirm and expand on the possibility of life.”

These developments, and public statements, can show the development of basic science initiatives and the advancement of science from discovery to channelization of resources towards further research in hopes of greater ‘bounty,’ scientific discoveries.

Jane Greaves, an astronomer at the University of Cardiff in the U.K., and lead researcher on some of the new research into phosphine on Venus as a potential biosignature. After some preliminary research, Greaves and colleagues managed to use the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) in March of 2019. The preliminary research was not a blip. Greaves was set for disappointment, but came to an amazing finding. She, and her colleagues, found more phosphine than expected or predicted. Not a conclusion, here, as to whether this is the true sign of life, but, rather, an indication as to increasingly supportive empirical evidence of unusual amounts of phosphine at unusual pressures and altitudes for both phosphine and the amount of phosphine.

Is this “life on Venus”? No, if it is simply an anomalistic finding, however, it could be, “Yes,” if further empirical support with the preponderance of evidence pointing to life rather than an “exotic” chemical reaction. Thus, maybe, but definitely, an unusual amount of phosphine raising intriguing questions about the possibilities of “life on Venus,” so “possibilities” and not conclusions.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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