There was a time people imagined Venus would be a beautiful place to live, and maybe it once was, but now we know it’s hotter than Phoenix and the atmosphere is big-boned enough to squash you into a tortilla. Carl Sagan suggested, sixty years ago and to the general derision of his now-nameless peers, that if there is life on Venus, it would be found in the atmosphere. That viewpoint has been validated of late but it still doesn’t sound like a great destination, on account of the giant fart layer.
That is, in fact, what makes people believe there is life on Venus now, if only microbial. The discovery of lots of phosphine indicates to most researchers that something has farted it out, because that’s just about the only way you can get phosphine, the reduced form of phosphorus, in a highly oxygenated environment. You can eke out a little using lightning and maybe volcanoes but if you’ve got yourself a whole stinky swath of it, something along the lines of bacteria is presumed to be pooting it out. On Earth, you just don’t find a lot of phosphine except in oxygen-depleted environments such as sewage ponds and the bowels of badgers. Weirdly, even here we don’t know which microorganisms make phosphine.
There have been plenty of attempts to get closer to Venus. In fact, we’ve been sending doomed ships to the planet since the early 1960s. Most of them were never heard from again. One did land and got smashed into a potato chip and burnt up in about two seconds. Then they got one to eep out information for a couple hours. That’s been about it. But now it is being proposed we send something that looks like the Stealth Bomber to sneak up on the planet and orbit in its atmosphere, examining alien flatulence. It is expected to last maybe a year and with any luck it will get some identifiable microbe splat on its windshield.
I certainly have a passing interest in a planet that smells like farts, but only from 25 million miles away. I’m not personally eager to land on any of them and would prefer the rest of us stay home too. The robots are plenty cool enough and the manned missions strike me as pure hubris. The gas giants just irritate me. What the hell. You want to land on them, not through them.
I’m not sure why all the planets are named after Roman gods, with the exception of ours, which comes from the ancient Ankle-Slackson for “dirtball.” In fact I also don’t know why the Roman gods just shanghaied the Greek gods. It must have been a case of that famous Roman efficiency, the same organizational skills that created elaborate aqueducts and conquered the world. Why bother to whomp up a bunch of new gods and goddesses if you can get used ones cheap? Round up the whole pantheon, slap your own labels on them, and call it a day. Anyway the Greeks got them started but the Romans had them last, and so we use Roman names: Mercury (Greek “Hermes”) through Mars (Greek “Ares”) right up to Pluto (Greek “Goofus”).
So Venus (“Aphrodite”) is the goddess of beauty, and she certainly is lovely from here. I’m hoping for the best for the proposed probe and I hope it finds life. My money’s on tardigrades.