Something Weird Is Happening on Venus

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Updated at 7:22 p.m. ET on Sept. 14, 2020.After the moon, Venus is the brightest object in the night sky, gleaming like a tiny diamond in the darkness. The planet is so radiant because of its proximity to Earth, but also because it reflects most of the light that falls across its atmosphere, more than any other world in the solar system.Something really weird is happening in those clouds.Scientists revealed today that they have detected traces of a gas in the Venusian atmosphere that, according to everything they understand about Venus, shouldn’t be there. They considered many explanations for what could be producing the gas, known as phosphine, and settled on an explanation guided by what they know about our own planet. On Earth, phosphine—a toxic gas—is produced by microorganisms.“As crazy as it might sound, our most plausible explanation is life,” Clara Sousa-Silva, a molecular astrophysicist at MIT and one of the authors of the new study, told me.Before everyone starts screaming, I need to emphasize that the discovery of phosphine molecules in Venus’s atmosphere does not mean that scientists have found proof of alien life. The detection is simply evidence of a …

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