It was possible, though unconfirmed, that Greaves had just caught the first glimpse of alien beings. She wandered around in a daze.
The hour was late and everyone else had gone home. “There wasn’t really anyone to tell,” she says. Cautious of jumping to conclusions, she stifled her excitement and commanded herself to do normal things, to focus on the business of living. So she left work and went to the grocery store. “Must find food, must do something sensible, must not crash the car,” she recalls telling herself on that evening in late 2018.
In his book Life at the Speed of Light , Craig Venter himself—the brash, iconoclastic scientist and entrepreneur, and the institute’s founder—described his project as the first “synthetic cell”; it was named Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0, but it acquired the nickname “Synthia.” You can tell a lot about a biotech application about the way it’s named (“noninvasive,” “de-extinction”), and Venter’s new cell is no different: its formal name highlights the merging of the biological and digital.
Sign Up TodaySign up for our Longreads newsletter for the best features, ideas, and investigations from WIRED.“Being British, I had to buy the ingredients for curry,” she adds. A celebration.She spent the next few days checking that she hadn’t made a mistake. The signal, which sure looked like phosphine, persisted. And today, after many more months of data gathering and analysis, she and a team of colleagues made the official announcement: There appears to be phosphine on Venus, and so far they’ve found no explanation for why it might be there—except as a result of Venusian life.That doesn’t mean there is life on Venus. Some nonbiological process unknown on Earth might have churned the molecule into existence. Humans have, after all, cried “Aliens!” because of suspicious chemistry before. But while there’s much followup work to be done—many complications, confirmations, or denials that could and probably will come—it’s also possible today’s the day humans are introduced to the ultimate other.
On its hot, horrid face, the idea that Venus might make a nice home sounds absurd. Its surface is more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Its pressure is akin to that found 3,000 feet under the earthly ocean. It’s very metal there. So metal you could melt lead. So metal that human-sent spacecraft melt and crumple within hours of landing.
But scientists have speculated about strange life on Venus for decades. In part that’s because the planet was not always thus: It may once have boasted an ocean. Life could have arisen back when the neighborhood was nicer and evolved as conditions transformed the planet into a literal hellscape. Evolved, that is, to live in a chiller part of the planet: the clouds, more than 30 miles above the surface, where the pressure eases up and the temperature dips into the 80s.