Life on Venus? Who cares?
I learned a hell of a thing this week. It turns out that our hot planetary neighbor, Venus, is shrouded with trace elements of phosphine. Astronomers believe phosphine can only be generated by biological processes — either bacteria or industrial production.
Now to be clear, the probability of a canning factory on Venus is pretty slim. But the bacteria thing? That’s getting a solid maybe from astronomers who make it their business to know such things.
So, life. Maybe.
Yep, 2020 was the year the universe decided to offer the most tantalizing hint our race has yet found that … to put a bit of a dramatic spin on it … we may not be alone.
Here are my detailed Venus space-findings
I’ll be honest. The hairs on my arms shot up when my eyes first hit this news. I’ve been waiting for this. Sure, it’s only a maybe. But even the glimmer of a hope delights me. Somewhere on Venus, right now, oily globs of non-sentient space sputum could be chowing down on sulfuric acid and carbon dioxide.
It set me a-wondering. Could we go there?
Could clever NASA types one day scrape some intergalactic smegma into a little test tube and bring it home to live out the rest of its days in a cozy, LED-lit aquarium — presumably somewhere in Florida?
Harnessing my keen instinct for research, I typed space.com into the Googles and gained my answer to this (in hindsight, ridiculous) question…
… which I can safely summarize as “no.”
For one, the longest a human-made probe lasted in Venus’ atmosphere was 127 minutes, before acid, extreme heat, and crushing atmospheric pressure dragged it down into the planet’s hellish embrace.
If by some miracle of space-science we got some brave soul anywhere near Venus, they’d be too busy being compressed to the size of a watermelon while simultaneously burning and dissolving to care much about harvesting Venusian hell-jello.
Of course, I’m sure we could task a suitably suicidal robo-probe to go grab space-goop — but I think we can safely assume it won’t happen for a good while.
So, who cares?
I do, for one. So much.
Objectively, I know Venus news is utterly insignificant to my immediate, tangible future. Yet I’m transfixed. It’s altered my week; my life maybe.
Even if Venusian phosphene turns out to be the byproduct of some as-yet-unidentified geological process, this was the first time I felt that electric emotional jolt I’ve imagined so many times: that feeling that maybe we’re close to knowing definitively that we’re not alone in the universe.
I want to hear science say it: “Sure this first living thing we found has no idea it exists and resembles the bowel movement of an unusually anxious cat. But what might we find next?”
Space goop feels like good news
I know I’m not the only one to feel this: I’ve been so numb to news media lately.
Oh, I follow it. I care about it enough to feel the occasional flash of rage that sends me gibbering my echoing indignation down the nearest social media rabbit hole.
But mostly, I feel like one of those gray people at a desolate casino somewhere, clunking coin after coin into a tobacco-stained slot machine. I plop myself down in front of the news cycle and spend my attention coins, piece by piece. It’s habit.
And then, intergalactic mucus might exist 91 million miles away.
An electrical jolt of adrenaline and I’m eagerly scooping happy coins into a plastic cup. I’m hearing Spock on a loop: “it’s life Jim, but not as we know it.” Campbell’s chunky space soup I can care about.
This incredibly complicated thing doesn’t feel that complicated.
I think I’ve been overwhelmed by all the news that directly impacts me in important ways: Right here, right now.
I think the whole shebang has left me news-cycle myopic. I’m interested in all of it, but at least half the time I’m squinting at the fine print. I find I’ve no farking idea how to file it away for future reference.
What should I should tut at as I slurp my morning coffee?
Which of it should outrage me to action?
What will any of it really mean five years from now? Hell, five days from now?
I feel like I had my Jurassic Park moment this week, where Sam Neill grabs Laura Dern’s chin and raises her eye line to see a balls-to-the-wall T Rex just hanging out and living its truth. Awe-slash-majesty is wandering around like it owns the place, and all I had to do was look up.
Except that … and here’s a phrase you probably haven’t read before … my tyrannosaurus was a dollop of cosmic space-gunge.