The Sprint To Reach For The Stars Accelerates With Potential Life Discovery On Venus

The fight for the stars, nowadays known as ‘the second space-race,’ began when Mars was first considered as a future home for humanity. Today, the detection of phosphine fingerprints in the atmosphere of Venus constitutes a powerful peace-agitator in the status quo of space exploration. Indeed, Earth’s evil twin could become a game-changer as the recent discovery hints to a potential biosignature, a sign of life elsewhere in the universe.

As soon as the revelation hit, NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, declared that it was “time to prioritise Venus” and stirred up Earth’s geopolitical situation around the subject. Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin immediately announced that “Venus is a Russian planet” and that the Russian Federation “shouldn’t lag behind.” Whilst the discovery has been published by British and Americans scientists, future research will be conducted by the Breakthrough Initiatives Program, an organization financed by Russian-born billionaire Yuri Milner who characterizes the mission as “an urgent priority for our civilisation.”

On the other hand, the CEO and Founder of U.S. company Rocket Lab, Peter Beck, wants to send a probe to Venus as early as 2023 and affirms that “the goal of the mission is to find life.” A joint mission of ESA and JAXA will also study the Venusian atmosphere throughout the flybys of spacecrafts in October 2020 and August 2021.  Jörn Helbert from the German Aerospace Centre divulged that “there actually is something in the spectral range of MERTIS,”  hinting at extraterrestrial life.

As financial and geopolitical tensions rise, the scientific community advises governments not to rush to Venus, in the name of international security. Venus cannot really be the new Mars, David Clements an Imperial College of London astrophysicist warned, underlining that “Venus is hell.” In order to save precious time and tremendous financial efforts, it is vital to weigh up all the options throughout the heated debate around the new-found data. Either, “the most plausible explanation for phosphine, as fantastical as it might sound, is life” as MIT molecular astrophysicist Clara Sousa-Silva says, or this finding is “not even gunshot residue on the hands of your prime suspect,” as responds Clements. However, the truth and solution to the current rush must lie in between the two possibilities, in which case being patient is our best option.

The will to discover something around Venus goes way back to 1967 when scientist Carl Sagan wrote that “while the surface conditions of Venus make the hypothesis of life there implausible, the clouds of Venus are a different story altogether.” On Monday 14th of September 2020, it was indeed a clue within those clouds that was identified by the Mauna Kea telescope in Hawaii.

Once the thrill has gone around life potentiality, the international community could try to look at Venus in other ways. Venus could in the future represent the best example we have to fight climate change. Indeed, if we study ‘the poster child for the greenhouse effect,’ we could find what was the turning point for the planet to diverge thoroughly from its similar appearance to Earth. Venus might not be a second-genesis, but its planetary climate data sets will help refine models of global warming and might help our planet brave the age of Anthropocene.

Mélusine Lebret