Daily briefing: ‘Unexplained’ molecule on Venus hints at life

Phosphine in Venus’s atmosphere raises the tantalising idea of life on the planet. Plus, the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine trial is back on and the lasting misery of coronavirus long-haulers.

‘Unexplained’ molecule on Venus hints at life
Phosphine has been detected in Venus’s atmosphere, raising the thrilling question of whether the molecule might be a sign of life on the planet. On rocky planets, life is the only known source of the compound — although it forms without a helping hand near the energetic cores of the gas giants. Life seems impossible on the surface of the Solar System’s hottest world, but the middle of its cloud layer offers a more promising environment in terms of temperature, pressure and presence of water and organic molecules. Even if it’s not a sign of life on Venus, the unexpected observation is exciting: “Whether it’s life or not, it has to be a really exotic mechanism,” says quantum astrochemist Clara Sousa-Silva, who co-authored the study. “Something weird is happening.”

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