Could there be life in the atmosphere of Venus ? Image Credit: NASA
The discovery of phosphine suggests that Venus may not be quite as inhospitable to life as previously thought.
With surface temperatures exceeding 860 degrees and crushing atmospheric pressures that are more than 100 times those found on our own panet, the conditions on Venus are undeniably hellish.
But while the likelihood of finding signs of life on its surface remains low, scientists have long speculated that primitive life forms could potentially eke out an existence high up in the clouds.
It's an idea that has been around for decades - even Carl Sagan speculated about the possibility of life in the atmosphere of Venus back in 1967.
Now a new study published today in the journal Nature Astronomy has revealed the discovery of phosphine on Venus - something that could indicate the presence of life.
"[The discovery] suggests either some exotic chemical process occurs we haven't got or thought of on Earth - or maybe that some kind of very robust organism survived the runaway greenhouse effect, and evolved up to live in the clouds," said Cardiff University's Jane Greaves.
The discovery was made using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii.
"When Jane sent me the spectrum I sat in front of my computer blinking for about half an hour," said telescope director Jessica Dempsey. "I didn't believe she'd actually found it."
"We aren't saying it's a 100 per cent robust detection of life, but what we can say is that we've opened it up to the possibility that it is that."