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Life on Venus

“Apparently it smells basically like death… It just smells horrific. We once, I think, found a report of someone saying it smelled like the rancid diapers of the spawn of Satan.” – Clara Sousa-Silva, NPR interview

Life on Venus? Not exactly, but life swirling about in the clouds of Venus is apparently a very real possibility. That there’s a possible confirmation of life in the universe beyond Earth is extraordinary. That the life in question – Phosphine – smells like the bad gas of a rat after a night of dumpster diving is extraordinarily 2020. And yet here we are.

In another year the announcement of life on another planet would have been front page news. But Phosphine isn’t particularly sexy as life goes, and we have enough alien life to deal with right here on Earth already. Honestly I’m happy there are brilliant people like Clara Sousa-Silva and her peer Jane Greaves are out that the very thing that we’ve all been looking at all along has potential living matter dancing in the Venus clouds. My mind simply doesn’t function in such a way that I’d make that connection between the chemical signature of Phosphine as proof of life on Venus. Or rather, life in the clouds of Venus.

That brilliant women are leading the discovery of life on Venus leads to the rather obvious men are from Mars, women are from Venus analogy, but I dare not go further than that. I’ll simply concede that these women are far ahead of me in the brain matter department and doing mind-blowing work. I spend my time with words and images and making connections between people, not immersed in science. Shame on me, really, for this is really fascinating.

And yes, I’ll admit it: Venus and I have had a long relationship. It’s not exclusive, mind you, but we get together often on long evening walks or quiet moments of stargazing. I admit I even take the binoculars out sometimes to get a closer look. But I knew the relationship was best kept long-distance. Venus has a toxic personality, after all. Best to look but not touch. And now to find out that she has bad breath too. It’s all too much, really. To gaze in wonder at this heavenly object for years only to find out she’s not at all what you expected her to be. But expectations are funny things, and we spend far too much time elevating objects of our affection to higher levels than they ought to occupy. That’s a lesson we can bring right back to Earth straight from the clouds of Venus.

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