Phosphine Gas in the Cloud Decks of Venus

Not at all, at present. There’s too much we just don’t know.

The first step is to make sure the molecule we see is phosphine and not some unknown molecule that is producing the feature, how much there really is, how it’s distributed through the clouds, and what implications that has for where to look for its source.

We then need to find out if there’s actually life in the clouds of Venus.

Even when that’s done, there’s still a real possibility that life from Earth hitched a ride to Venus early on, so this may not imply more than one origin.

If on Venus, Enceladus, Mars, Europa, any life is found that has a separate origin from life on Earth, that has enormous implications for origins of life and the prevalence of life in the universe. It suggests it’s not all that hard to make life from non-life after all. This is why exoplanets are so compelling. Unless you appeal to panspermia, finding life in another stellar system, close enough for us to see evidence of it, strongly implies that origins of life is relatively easy.

Two things come to mind:

(1) The uncertainty inherent in science. So far, no known explanation except for life can account for the detection, but we don’t know a lot. A lot more investigation needs to be done, especially involving abiotic phosphorus chemistry in sulfuric acid droplets. There’s also huge problems (that you will know more about) with life thriving in 90% sulfuric acid.

(2) That lots of people since Carl Sagan have thought about life in the clouds of Venus and have worked on this question way before our group started looking into this detection and its possible implications. I’d especially highlight David Grinspoon’s research into possible life on Venus.

The detection of phosphine itself. Whatever its cause, by all rights it just shouldn’t be there, and the mystery is compelling.