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Venus as seen by the Galileo spacecraft in 1990. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists still have a long way to go before they can say definitively what’s creating the phosphine — a possible signature of life — detected on Venus.

The big picture: Science is an iterative process, and this discovery is no exception.

State of play: While finding this signal of phosphine is a big deal, it's not proof of life, and future observations will have to repeat and then elaborate upon the just-released study.

  • Future research will use other observatories to hunt for phosphine and other chemicals that might be associated with it in Venus' atmosphere in different wavelengths of light.
  • The authors of the study had plans to perform more follow-up observations this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way, with telescopes shutting down around the world.
"I would think that every team that learns about this should, if they can, and they have the capabilities of resolving this gas, and resolving Venus should be making follow-up measurements to see if there is any kind of change. ... But also just to validate findings to make sure that there are other independent teams that can replicate the findings."
— Paul Byrne, planetary geologist at North Carolina State University, told Axios

That validation is particularly important because some scientists aren't necessarily sold that the signal from phosphine is real and robust in the way the authors of the new study claim that it is.

  • “They took the right steps to verify the signal, but I’m still not convinced that this is real,” John Carpenter, an ALMA observatory scientist, told National Geographic. “If it’s real, it’s a very cool result, but it needs follow-up to make it really convincing.”

What's next: Ultimately, experts say they will need some kind of probe launched to study Venus' atmosphere from close range to truly understand whether life exists there.

  • The next decadal survey — during which planetary scientists set the field's priorities for the coming decade — is coming up, so it will be interesting to see whether the community recommends a new mission to Venus in light of the news.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jul 7, 2020 - Science

The race to find Planet X heats up

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Teams of scientists are vying to be the first to spot a large, hypothetical planet that might be lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system.

Why it matters: Astronomers have found thousands of planets orbiting other stars, but the hunt for this possible planet orbiting our own Sun — called Planet X or Planet 9 by some — is showing just how little we know about our solar system.

The new Washington

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Axios subject-matter experts brief you on the incoming administration's plans and team.

Rep. Lou Correa tests positive for COVID-19

Lou Correa. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) announced on Saturday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Correa is the latest Democratic lawmaker to share his positive test results after last week's deadly Capitol riot. Correa did not shelter in the designated safe zone with his congressional colleagues during the siege, per a spokesperson, instead staying outside to help Capitol Police.

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