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Michael TaubeIs there life on other planets?

That question has intrigued man for generations.

Most people used to scoff at the suggestion of the existence of UFOs and tales of little green men from Mars (or worse).

Societal attitudes have shifted due to our increased fascination with Roswell/UFO sightings, Phoenix Lights, Lubbock Lights, and depictions of space aliens on radio, TV and film.

A January 2020 Ipsos poll found that 66 percent of U.S. respondents believed “there is life on other planets.” Fifty-seven percent felt “there is intelligent life and civilizations on other planets” and 45 percent went as far to say “UFOs exist and have visited the Earth.”

There’s a good chance the global shift from skepticism to possibility about extraterrestrial life is about to extend even further.

Astronomers from post-secondary institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Cambridge, University of Manchester, Cardiff University and Kyoto Sangyo University detected phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. Phosphine is a chemical compound that produces an odourless, flammable gas. It’s classified as part of a group of organophosphorus (or organic) compounds.

Time and analysis was spent in an attempt to figure out the chemical’s original source. After much study, research and deliberation, the only explanation was that it’s coming from something that’s alive.

The astronomers published their findings on Monday in two scientific journals, Nature Astronomy and Astrobiology.

“If no known chemical process can explain PH3 (phosphine) within the upper atmosphere of Venus, then it must be produced by a process not previously considered plausible for Venusian conditions. This could be unknown photochemistry or geochemistry, or possibly life,” they noted in the former publication.

With respect to life forms, they examined the possibility of “small microbial-type particles” in cloud droplets in the latter publication. Their argument was “life must reside inside liquid droplets such that it will be protected from a fatal net loss of liquid to the atmosphere, an unavoidable problem for any free-floating microbial life forms.”

“This is an astonishing and ‘out of the blue’ finding,” Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at MIT who’s listed as an author on both papers, told the New York Times. “It will definitely fuel more research into the possibilities for life in Venus’s atmosphere.”

Some scientists were immediately skeptical. Others, such as David Grinspoon of the Planetary Science Institute, told the Times it was “pretty damn exciting!” He said while it needs to be followed up, “this could be the first observation we’ve made which reveals an alien biosphere and, what do you know, it’s on the closest planet to home in the entire cosmos.”

It’s also worth noting that National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted on Sept. 14: “Life on Venus? The discovery of phosphine, a byproduct of anaerobic biology, is the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth. About 10 years ago NASA discovered microbial life at 120,000 feet in Earth’s upper atmosphere. It’s time to prioritize Venus.”

I’m not entirely surprised by this development.

During my tenure as a Washington Times columnist, I wrote in July 2014 that while I believed “we’re alone” in the universe, “I have always been willing to accept the possibility, as reputable scientists have previously suggested, that there could be, or could have been, tiny extraterrestrial microorganisms.”

The existence of small microbes on other planets in our solar system (and other exoplanets that scientists have identified) is far more believable and logical than the existence of UFOs, alien invaders and advanced extraterrestrial societies.

Plus, Venus has been called Earth’s “sister planet” because of certain similarities in mass, size and proximity to the sun – so it makes sense that life could exist there, too.

We’re a long way from determining whether life does exist on Venus. Further study needs to be conducted by different scientists, universities, research labs and observatories.

But we may discover that we’re not alone in the universe after all.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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