… or are we?
Recently announced research suggests that there is life on Venus.
This research identified phosphine (PH3) in the atmosphere of Venus. According to the researchers, the only way to get phosphine is from life.
I might disagree, and here is why: We think of phosphine as only associated with life because we live on Earth, where there is lots of life, and that is where we find phosphine. There are a gazillian chemical compounds that no one thought would or could exist, or even imagined one might exist, that have been synthesized by chemists over the years. The synthesis of some of these compounds depended on the novel synthesis of other, earlier “discovered” compounds. The idea that no chemist will ever figure out how to synthesize phosphine without an organism being involved does not seem likely to me.
But, I’m not a chemist, and especially, I’m not Clara Sousa-Silva, who has devoted her entire research career to understanding phosphine and related problems. She is not a chemist either, but rather, a physicist, who specializes in analysis of extraterrestrial chemicals.
So, is this going to be Mono Lake II, or an amazing new discovery? Only time will tell. I’m just adding this caveat: Since we live on a planet with life, and we see chemical signatures of life, but life is literally everywhere messing around with all the chemical processes, there might be a number of signatures of life that would still exist in life-free environments, but since we have no life free environments on Earth (to speak of) we are ignorant of that set of processes.
This is like the Enigma of Socrates. Socrates speaks. Socrates has two legs, not four. Therefore Socrates is a man, right? That logic would be hard to beat on a planet with no parrots. But on a planet with parrots, Socrates could be a parrot.
“Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus” with about 20 authors, in Nature Astronomy has no public or open source copy. The New York Times has it, but you will need a subscription to read that. Clara has a web site devoted to phosphine, here.