Astronomers find possible signs of life on Venus


Traces of a rare molecule known as phosphine have been found in the hellish, heavily acidic atmosphere of the planet Venus, astronomers announced on Monday – providing tantalizing clues about the possibility of life. Phosphine molecules found on Earth are mainly the result of the actions of germs that thrive in human industry or oxygen-free environments.

Researchers are not claiming that life on another planet has been detected by the Sun. But this observation suggests the possibility of microbial activity, at least in the upper layers of Venus’s atmosphere, far beyond the inhuman surface of the planet.

“We have detected a rare gas called phosphine in the atmosphere of our neighboring planet Venus,” said Jane Greaves, a professor at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom and the lead author of a report published in Nature Astronomy. “And the reason for our excitement is that the phosphine gas on Earth is created by microorganisms that live in oxygen-free environments. And so there is a chance that we have detected some kind of living organism in Venus’s clouds.”

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False image of Venus captured by ultraviolet imager aboard Japan’s Venus Climate Orbiter (Akatsu).

JAXA


Nevertheless, the team said, much more study is needed to support any such claim, which would be extraordinary.

“To make this quite extraordinary claim that there can be life there, we really have to rule everything, and that’s why we’re very cautious saying that we are not claiming life there, but claiming it That is really unknown. It could be life, “said team member William Bains, a researcher at MIT.

Sarah Seeger, a fellow MIT scientist who studies the exoplanet atmosphere, agreed, “We are not claiming that we have found life on Venus.”

“We are claiming reassuring identification of the phosphine gas whose existence is a mystery,” she said. “Phosphine can be produced by some (non-biological) process on Venus, but only in such incredibly small amounts it is not enough to explain our observation. So we leave with this exciting, enticing prospect Are: Perhaps it is some kind of life in the clouds of Venus. “

Mars has long been considered the best candidate in the solar system, hosting microorganism life in the distant past or even in the present, as revealed by the background level of methane. NASA, European Space Agency, China, India, Russia and United Arab Emirates are all following Red planet discovery In one form or another.

NASA is also planning a major mission to study the moons of Jupiter. Scientists believe that one of the largest and most famous moons of the planet, Europa, Is heated by tidal stress and gravitational interaction with other moons, which live in an icy sea, possibly in a habitable sea beneath its icy crust. Other frozen moons in the outer solar system, possible “water worlds”, are also candidates for study.

But Venus is the victim of a fugitive greenhouse effect in which most carbon dioxide produces dense clouds in the atmosphere, sunlight, temperatures on the surface that rise to about 900 degrees, warm and melt.

In the upper atmosphere of the planet, however, temperatures are much more hospitable. Despite the acidic nature of clouds, scientists have speculated that it may be possible for alien microbes to exist.

“Today the surface conditions there are really unfavorable, the temperature is high enough to melt our landers,” Greaves said. “But it has been thought that much earlier in the history of Venus, the surface was much colder and wetter and life could possibly have occurred.

“There is a long-standing theory that some of the smallest forms of life may be able to move upward in high clouds. Conditions are certainly not good, they are extremely acidic and it is very airy, but on the other hand ., If you’re talking 50 to 60 kilometers up, the pressure is a lot like it’s on the surface of the Earth and the temperature is pretty good, maybe up to about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. So it’s presumed that it’s a living Is today. ”

Greaves’ team studied the spectra of Venus’s atmosphere using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and 45 radio telescope antennas at the Atacama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array in Chile and were surprised to see unmatched signs of phosphine. “It was a setback,” Greaves said.

The detection was rewarded with additional observation time on the ALMA array and, “Finally, we found that both observatories had seen the same thing, faint absorption phosphine gas at the right wavelength, where the molecules are backlit by warm clouds below ., “Greaves said in a statement.

Only trace amounts were observed, about 20 molecules per billion. But additional research found natural sources of phosphine – volcanoes, electricity, minerals flown into the atmosphere, the action of sunlight – would generate only a ten-thousandth amount that was actually detected.

The team can rule in a number of non-biological ways to generate observed levels of phosphine, but this does not mean that life is the only explanation. MIT researcher Cara Susa Silva said that Venus’ atmosphere is 90% sulfuric acid, which raises many questions, such as how any organism can survive.

“On Earth, some germs can withstand about 5% of the acid in their atmosphere, but Venus’ clouds are almost entirely made up of acid,” she said.

Greaves’ team awaits additional binocular time to look for signals of other gases associated with biological activity and to determine the temperature of the clouds where phosphine is present to gain additional insight. Ultimately, future trips will need to be completely resolved by future spacecraft.

“There can always be something we’ve overlooked,” Seeger said. “Ultimately, the only thing that will answer this question for us – what is life, what is not life – is actually going on Venus and making more detailed measurements for signs of life and perhaps life itself.”

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