Here’s what we learned about aliens in 2020

In a year when mysterious monoliths literally appeared out of nowhere, you’d think the first real detection of alien life would be a stone’s-throw away. Well, 2020 didn’t bring any little green men, but it did bring astronomers closer to finding extraterrestrial life than ever before. From organic molecules turning up around the solar system to mysterious radio signals finally being traced back to their source, here are some of the biggest findings of the year about where aliens may be (and definitely aren’t) hiding in the universe.

There could be alien life in the clouds of Venus

Cloud Features Seen on Venus

(Image credit: ESA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

In September, Venus became the most popular planet on Earth when scientists discovered possible traces of the molecule phosphine in the planet’s atmosphere. On Earth, phosphine (made from one phosphorous atom and three hydrogen atoms) is mostly associated with non-oxygen-breathing bacteria, as well as some human activities. The molecule is produced naturally by gas giants, but there’s no good reason why it should be on the hot and hellish world of Venus, the researchers concluded — unless, perhaps, there is some sort of life breathing it into the planet’s mysterious clouds?

… But it’s not likely

A NASA illustration shows the Pioneer-13 probes descending toward the clouds of Venus.

(Image credit: NASA)

Exciting as it was, the phosphine discovery was met with strong skepticism from the scientific community. For starters, it’s not even clear that the researchers detected phosphine at all; their observations contained so much noise that something mimicking phosphine’s chemical signature could have appeared by accident, John Carpenter, an observatory scientist at the Atacama telescope in Chile, previously told Live Science. 

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