From speculations about the function of the giant stones of Stonehenge to David Bowie's famous inquiry, "Is there life on Mars," the possibility of extraterrestrial life has fascinated people for centuries. Now, a new discovery by a group of astronomers has experts thinking there may be life in our solar system.
Traces of a rare molecule known as phosphine have been found in the atmosphere of Venus, a planet notorious for its unbelievably hot and acidic atmosphere.
Phosphine, as toxic as it is rare, is sometimes found on Earth. However, when found on Earth it's usually a result of man-made industry or from microbes that live in oxygen-less environments.
There is no known process that would produce the high quantity of phosphine on Venus, leading researchers to suggest that there may be microbial activity in the outer layers of the planet's atmosphere.
"We have detected a rare gas called phosphine in the atmosphere of our neighbor planet Venus," said Jane Greaves, a professor at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom and lead author of a report published in Nature Astronomy. "And the reason for our excitement is that phosphine gas on Earth is made by microorganisms that live in oxygen-free environments. And so there is a chance that we have detected some kind of living organism in the clouds of Venus."
Of course, more research and study is needed before any absolute claim about extra-terrestrial life can be made, but the new discovery is exciting.
"We are claiming the confident detection of phosphine gas whose existence is a mystery," Sara Seger, a scientist at MIT who studies exoplanet atmospheres, told CBS News. "Phosphine can be produced by some (non-biological) processes on Venus, but only in such incredibly tiny amounts it's not enough to explain our observation. So we're left with this other exciting, enticing possibility: that perhaps there is some kind of life in Venus' clouds."
The planet of Mars has been a fan-favorite for potential alien life among scientists and story-tellers due to high levels of methane which once existed on the planet. Research efforts, like the Mars Rover, have been studying the planet for years. Based on this new discovery, it looks like Mars has some competition.
For now, calls have been made by a girl with mousy hair requesting David Bowie's lyrical query, "Is there life on Mars?" be updated to "Is there life on Venus?" in order to reflect the times.