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Astronomers Discover Potential Hints of Life in the Clouds of Venus

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Venus. The planet Venus, the second planet from the Sun, has the longest rotation period (243 days) of any planet in the Solar System. It orbits the Sun every 224.7 Earth days, making a Venusian year shorter than an Earth year. Artist NASA. (Photo by Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

A group of international astronomers has stumbled upon what could be signs of life on the neighboring Venus, the second-closest planet to the sun and the hottest in our solar system with a surface temperature of 872 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to the Associated Press, a pair of telescopes in Hawaii and Chile picked out the toxic gas phosphine circulating in the planet's dense clouds. 

Though natural, non-life occurrences like lightning and volcanoes can create this kind of gas, the amount that was detected suggests that some sort of bacteria could be responsible.

On earth, phosphine is often found in ooze at the bottom of ponds, the digestive tracts of animals like badgers and, last but not least, penguin s**t.

"Not a single process we looked at could produce phosphine in high enough quantities to explain our team’s findings," said Sara Seager, co-author of the Nature Astronomy study and an MIT planetary scientist.

Still, the team was adamant that much more research is needed before making a conclusion that life indeed exists on what astrophysicist David Clements calls "Earth’s evil twin." He also said this initial finding is promising but "not a smoking gun."

"It’s not even gunshot residue on the hands of your prime suspect, but there is a distinct whiff of cordite in the air which may be suggesting something," he added.

While the surface of Venus is far too hot to support life, the clouds made of carbon-dioxide are slightly warmer than room temperature. Of course, the most effective way to learn more would be to launch a mission to gather physical evidence.