Phosphine Detected In The Atmosphere of Venus - An Indicator of Possible Life?
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September 13, 2020: The Royal Astronomical Society is planning to make a major press release tomorrow (September 14, 2020), and sources are leaking that they will be saying they've found Phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. Here on Earth, Phosphine is generally only found as a product of biological processes or lab experiments, it doesn't naturally occur without life. What's more, from what we know of the atmosphere of Venus, the chemical environment there has plenty of things that would react with and break down phosphene, so if some phosphine did get created by an event (deposited by an asteroid impact or the like), we would expect it to be neutralized / destroyed shortly thereafter. So, it's potentially big news, that could suggest microbial life on Venus creating new phosphine on an ongoing basis, faster than the environmental stresses can break it down. How cool is that?



Game and Story Use

  • Similar leaks could precede an in-game announcement of alien contact or some other scientific breakthrough or miracle. You could put this in the background of a (seemingly?) unrelated plotline, as a way to foreshadow your next session or storyline.
    • Players are chasing a murderer, or engaging in some very non-sci-fi activity, and this sort of headline pops up to make them suddenly question what kind of campaign this is. You might even float such a "leak", watch the player's reaction, and then decide based on whether or not they think it sounds cool, to determine if you will or won't slide into a new genre. If they seem to think a hard-left into sci-fi would wreck the campaign, the next session you just have the scientists recant. It's all a misunderstanding. (Or, a double fake, if the players seem more bummed at the "correction", you have one of the recanting scientists go missing, and now it's a government conspiracy to hide the truth! Queue the X-files theme. Aliens are back on the menu!)
  • The Venus news is both exciting, and potentially terrifying. It's scary because the Drake Equation largely implies that intelligent life should be all over the universe. We haven't seen conclusive signs of intelligent life out there, which suggests there may be some sort of Great Filter that prevents anyone becoming a Type I Civilization. (See Kardashev Scale) The least threatening possible form of great filter would be if just life itself is rare, and has only come into being in a handful of "Goldilocks" zones in our Universe. If life is so common that it was generated and evolved on more than one planet in our own system, that implies the Great Filter must be something that prevents life from progressing to become spacefaring… such as nuclear war, ecological catastrophe or disaster, the inevitability of global pandemic, etc. So, in a way, we should actually be rooting for there being no life on Venus.
  • Back before we knew how fiendishly hot the planet was, Venus was a staple inhabited world of pulp-era retro-speculative fiction. Now that classic scifi zaniness may actually start to sound believable again. What sorts of creatures might evolve on it? See Hypothetical Types of Biochemistry and alien biology for ideas.
    • It's likely (or at least possible) that any life there might only be able to survive at high atmospheric altitudes, in the upper ranges where the heat and pressure are less severe. So you might be looking at microbes that enter some sort of protective dormant spore state when air currents drop them lower (as suggested in this vlog), and then spring back into life when currents or volcanic activity propel them back up into the livable zone.
    • If you're intending to use larger multicellular venusians in your story, they might need to be gliders of some sort. They may have gas bladders to constantly float, some sort of chemical reaction to provide lift, or long membranes to glide or use like a living parachute.
  • This could lead to extremist environmentalists resisting some future terraforming operation with the aim of protecting "indigenous life".
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