Researchers have found evidence of a gas on Venus that suggests life could exist on the planet which experts consider inhospitable.
Venus is Earth’s closest neighboring planet, and the next closest planet to the sun (it is second while Earth is third).
While no actual life forms were detected, the discovery is considered significant by the team of scientists, who first discovered the gas using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, and later confirmed it using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile.
“I was very surprised — stunned, in fact,” said Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Wales, an astronomer and the lead author of the research, which was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
The search for life outside of Earth has been ongoing among international scientists, who use probes and telescopes to find clues and characteristics on other planets that could only exist where life does.
One of the study’s co-authors says that life is the likeliest explanation for the phosphine detected on Venus.
“With what we currently know of Venus, the most plausible explanation for phosphine, as fantastical as it might sound, is life,” said Clara Sousa-Silva, one of the study’s researchers and molecular astrophysicist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Venus is smaller than Earth and similar in structure, but clouded in a thick, toxic atmosphere. The planet’s surface can reach temperatures as high as 880 degrees Fahrenheit.
Phosphine itself is highly toxic to humans.