Ever since the discovery of a chemical called phosphine on Venus was announced in September last year, the scientific community has been in a dizzy spell. Scientists have published papers back and forth, trying to refute or push the claim.
With two new papers landing this week, some are claiming that the nails are being thrown into a coffin of phosphine. However, we suspect that the investigation will continue and be discussed for some time to come.
So what’s the real deal? Read ahead for a brief primer.
Phosphine on Venus? What difference does it make?
The search itself is very attractive. Using two different devices at different times – the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in 2017 and the Atacama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in 2019 – a team led by astronomer Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in the UK The spectral signature of the UK traces a chemical called phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus, which is 20 parts per billion. The findings were published in Nature astronomy.
As we said at the time, here on Earth, phosphine has been found in abundant anaerobic (low in oxygen) ecosystems. It is found in marshes and mud, where anaerobic germs thrive. It is found in the intestines and, well, farts. Somehow, anaerobic microorganisms produce phosphine. And Venus clouds are anaerobic.
Although Greaves and his team rejected several potential azinotic Venusian phosphine manufacturing pathways, they were very careful to note that there could be other ways of chemising. For one, volcanoes here on Earth produce phosphine, and we have evidence that Venus is still volcanic active. (A volcanic origin was later found admirable in another impression.)
Either way, the detection was fascinating, but the mention of a microbial origin led to a lot of speculation, and a lot of follow-up investigations from other scientists.
what happened next?
Well, it all got a bit complicated. First, a team of scientists had a look at historical Venus data, and found that phosphine could be detected in 1978 by the Pioneer investigation. That paper has not yet been accepted for publication. Another, presented to the magazine Science Even more not yet peer reviewed, it was claimed that the amino acid glycine – a protein building block – on Venus.
Other scientists started looking at the data. Three different papers – one since published Astronomy and Astrophysics On ALMA data, published in another Monthly notice of the Royal Astronomical Society On JCMT data, and reanalysis of both datasets and still awaiting peer review – no significant detection of phosphine was detected in the Venusian environment.
Then it was discovered that there was an error in processing data from ALMA comments. Greaves requested that the data be reprocessed; Those iterated data were made available to the public in November 2020.
Greaves and his team analyzed new data, and found that they could still detect phosphine on Venus, but in small quantities – a local average of 1 to 4 parts per billion, local peaks of 5 to 10 parts per billion. with.
Since both sulfur dioxide and phosphine absorb radiation near the 266.94-GHz frequency, some suggested that Greaves and his team may have detected sulfur dioxide (produced by volcanic activity) and not phosphine. In their new paper Greaves et al. Sulfur dioxide rejected. The spectral absorption line was interpreted as a chemical fingerprint of phosphene, he said, being too broad to be sulfur dioxide, and not enough on Venus to produce the observed signal.
The third paper by Greaves and his team defended the robustness of the phosphine signal.
Okay, so why is it back in the news now?
Two new papers have fallen, one of which has been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, And others of which have been accepted for publication The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Protecting data. Both papers contribute to increased agglomeration against phosphine.
In the first paper both sets of ALMA data were reunited, before and after they were reevaluated. The team first found a spectral line at 266.94 GHz in the dataset, but no significant signal after iteration. They also found that sulfur dioxide can appear in at least 10 parts per billion and cannot be detected by ALMA, suggesting that it may be more abundant than Greaves and his team thought .
The second paper used data from decades of Venus observations to model conditions in the Venusian atmosphere, and determined how phosphine and sulfur dioxide would behave. They found that the 266.94-GHz signal best fits an origin at an altitude of about 80 kilometers (50 mi), 50 to 60 kilometers above the cloud deck, as proposed by Greaves and his team.
At this height, phosphine will not last long, so the best explanation would be sulfur dioxide, he concluded.
Is that the end of it? Is Venus Phosphine Detection Dead?
not even close! For starters, Greaves and his team will likely respond to new papers, which will give more responses, more simulation and modeling and number-crunching and perhaps to determine what the possibilities and possibilities are.
Additionally, everything we have seen so far is decisive. It is more than likely that the way we calm disputes is from making more detailed observations with more powerful tools. We can wait for that for a while. Several proposed missions on Venus are in the pipeline, but it is often a long time between proposal and execution.
However, it is science at its best. There is a ‘truth’ and ‘false’ here. There is, or is not, phosphine on Venus. Scientists will use their creativity to try and solve problems, creating sophisticated techniques and analysis tools.
Eventually, we will learn the truth. And whatever is true, it will teach us something new about our universe.