Possible Sign of Life Detected In The Atmosphere of Venus
Deep within the acid clouds above Venus, astronomers have detected something new, a gas that might be an indication of life. The gas is phosphine, a toxic molecule with an odor of garlic and dead fish. Astronomers discovered the compound in a very cloud layer where temperatures are fairly near those on layer. Phosphine is exciting because of where it comes from. On earth, it’s either manufactured by humans, or it is a natural byproduct of life. It just doesn’t show up anywhere else, and there is no human manufacturing on Venus. Phosphine isn’t sure fireproof there are alien microbes on the cloudy planet, but it does mean that something goes on there. Something that we do not understand.
Here’s the backstory. Late last year, a team at MIT put out a paper calling phosphine gas a bio signature, a substance that will come from life on another world. The team argued that phosphine has no abiotic false positives, meaning nothing but life could naturally produce the gas on a rocky planet like earth. They suggested astronomers look for phosphine within the atmospheres of planets orbiting distant stars. Find phosphine and you’ve maybe found alien life. But this year, a world team, including several researchers at MIT, started searching for phosphine little closer to home, within the clouds above Venus. They used two telescopes to break apart the sunshine filtering through gases in Venus’s atmosphere. By staring at various wavelengths or spectra, as they go through these molecules, scientists can find fingerprints of the gasses present, and amazingly they found it, a signature line within the spectrum right where phosphine should be. It is a pretty low concentration. One in all the researchers described it as “a few tablespoons “in an Olympic-size pool.” But that’s actually quite a lot compared to what we discover on earth. Which may mean that something is actively replenishing the provision to worry test their find, the team tried to return up with other explanations for the gas. They modeled things like lightning strikes and meteors to work out if those events might produce this amount of phosphine.
So far, nothing matches up. Now, things could change in the months ahead. It’s possible that this signal can be explained by another gas, dioxide. We’ll need more observations to confirm one gas or another. And whether or not it’s phosphine, life might not be the most effective explanation. Venetian clouds are a nightmarish place for keeps to survive. The clouds themselves are made of droplets of acid. So acidic that they’re literally off our pH scale. Any life we’re familiar with would face wrong odds there. And for what it’s worth, there are other alien false alarms before. In 1996, researchers found what seemed like fossilized bacteria in a Martian meteorite. Then president, President Clinton, even gave a speech about it – Ultimately that claim did not blockage to scrutiny.
Therefore the reaction among plenty of experts immediately is curiosity, but caution. But if the evidence remains strong, it might completely change our understanding of what makes a planet habitable. Today, we target planets that look plenty like our own, but Venus may tell us we need to expand our search. It might also raise Venus’s clout as an area to go to. Mars has gotten lots more attention over the past few decades, but phosphine could inspire new micro punting missions to the cloudy planet. For now, this detection is just the start of a protracted journey for astrobiologists. There aren’t any definitive answers about the presence of phosphine or the way it’s created, or the question of whether or not we’re alone within the universe. This can be an enormous story that’s sure to get lots of hype, so be wary of any “Scientists Have Found Aliens on Venus” type headlines.
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