Traces of a rare molecule called phosphine have been found in Venus’ infernal, highly acidic atmosphere, astronomers announced Monday – providing a clear clue to the possibility of life. The phosphine molecules found on Earth are primarily the result of human activity or the actions of microorganisms that thrive in oxygen-deficient environments.
Researchers have not said whether life was discovered on the second planet from the sun. But observations suggest the possibility of microbial activity in the upper layers of Venus’ atmosphere, which is far from the hospitable surface of the planet.
“We have discovered a rare gas called phosphine in the atmosphere of our neighboring planet Venus,” said Jane Graves, a professor at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom and editor-in-chief of a published report. Natural astronomy. “The reason for our excitement is that the phosphine gas on Earth is made by microbes that live in oxygen-free environments. So we have a chance to find some sort of organism in the clouds of Venus.”
Nevertheless, the panel said further research was needed to support any such claim, which was unusual.
“In order to make this very extraordinary claim that there may be life, we must reject everything, which is why we are so careful not to say that life exists, but to say that there really is something unknown that may be life,” said William Baines, a member of MIT’s research team.
“We’m not saying we found life on Venus,” agreed Sarah Caesar, a fellow MIT scientist studying exoplanet atmospheres.
“We say we are confidently discovering phosphine gas, the existence of which is a mystery,” he said. “Some (non-biological) processes in Venus can produce phosphine, but only in such incredibly small quantities is not enough to explain our observation. So we left out these wonderful, fascinating possibilities: maybe something could be life in the clouds of Venus.”
As suggested by methane background levels, Mars has long been considered the best candidate for extraterrestrial solar systems that have provided microbial life in distant times or even in the present. NASA, the European Space Agency, China, India, Russia and the United Arab Emirates are all followingIn one form or another.
NASA also plans a primary mission to explore. Scientists believe one of the largest and most well-known moons on the planet, , Heated by tidal pressures and gravitational interactions with other moons, contains a salty, potentially habitable ocean beneath its icy crust. Other frozen moons in the outer solar system and potential “water worlds” are candidates for the study.
But Venus is the victim of a runaway greenhouse effect, in which dense clouds in the carbon dioxide atmosphere capture sunlight, creating temperatures on the surface that rise to about 900 degrees, hot enough to melt lead.
However, in the upper atmosphere of the planet, the temperature is very hospitable. Despite the acidity of the clouds, scientists have speculated that there may be alien microbes.
“The surface conditions there today are really hostile, and the temperature is high enough to melt our lanyards,” Graves said. “But in the history of Venus the surface was very cold and damp, and life is thought to have appeared.
“There is a long-held theory that the smallest forms of life could have formed upwards into some high clouds. The conditions there are certainly not good, they are very acidic, it’s very windy, but on the other hand, if you’m talking 50 to 60 kilometers away, the pressure is like that on the surface of the earth and The temperature is very good, probably around 85 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is assumed that life is a habitat today. “
The Greaves team used 45 radio telescopic antennas on the James Clark Maxwell telescope in Hawaii and the Atacama large millimeter / sub millimeter array in Chile to study the spectrum of Venus’ atmosphere and be amazed by the vague signs of phosphine. “It was a shock,” Graves said.
The discovery was rewarded with additional observation time in the alma series, “Eventually we found that both labs found the same thing, dim absorption as phosphine gas at the right wavelength, where the molecules are repelled by the hot clouds below,” Graves said in a statement.
Only trace size was found, about 20 molecules per billion. But further research has shown that natural sources of phosphine – volcanoes, lightning, minerals thrown into the atmosphere, the action of sunlight – actually make up only about one tenth of the amount detected.
The team can reject many non-biological ways to generate observed levels of phosphine, but that does not mean that life is the only explanation. Venus’ atmosphere is 90% sulfuric acid, which raises many questions, such as “How can any living thing survive?” Said MIT researcher Kara Sousa Silva.
“On Earth, some microbes can deal with about 5% of the acid in their environment, but the clouds of Venus are almost entirely acidic,” he said.
The Greaves team is waiting for extra telescopic time to see the signs of other gases associated with biological activity and to determine the temperature of the clouds where the phosphine is present for further insight. Eventually, future visits of the spacecraft will be required to fully resolve the question.
“There may always be something we don’t notice,” Caesar said. “Ultimately, the only thing that answers us to this question – whether there is life or not – is actually going to Venus and making more detailed measurements for life’s signs and life.”