Read our COVID-19 research and news. Here, we find microbes thriving in hostile, corrosive environments such as hot springs and volcanic fields. “It’s disappointing that we don’t have this proof,” Sousa-Silva says. Once the team smoothed out the spectrum to remove excess noise, astronomers concluded that the phosphine signal was significant enough to call it a detection. “Whether it’s life or not, it has to be a really exotic mechanism,” Sousa-Silva says. On rocky worlds like Venus and Earth, conditions arenât thought to be extreme enough to make phosphine molecules in the absence of life. And near the middle of the cloud layer, temperatures and pressures are rather Earthlike. Sousa-Silva points to several possible explanations for the lack of phosphine in the infrared observations. © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, © 2015- “We have the technology right now to go into the atmosphere of Venus. She and her colleagues had planned such observations using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a plane-mounted telescope, and with NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii. Based on the team’s calculations, none of those events could produce the molecule in such abundance. The tentative detection of phosphine is likely to fuel calls for a return to Venus—a trip that some say is long overdue, given that the last time NASA sent a probe to the planet was in 1989. Early observations of the planet revealed that parts of its atmosphere absorb more ultraviolet light than expected, an anomaly that scientists hypothesized could be the work of aerial microbes. âYou can always improve the fit to a dataset by adding more variables, but you need to define a metric that tells you when to stop," says Meredith MacGregor, an astronomer at the University of Colorado, Boulder. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/10/venus-might-not-have-much-phosphine-dampening-hopes-for-life.html, is currently considering sending a spacecraft, used archival observations to search for signs of the gas in the planetâs clouds, reprocessed the discovery teamâs original data, Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, new reanalysis of data from the Pioneer-Venus probe, that their procedure may have generated spurious signals, do not indicate a strong signal from phosphine, failed to find evidence for phosphine in both the JCMT and ALMA data. The data from ALMA, which produces extremely high-resolution observations, was more complicated to analyze. The signal is faint, and the team needed to perform an extensive amount of processing to pull it from the data returned by the telescopes. “When somebody comes up with an extraordinary observation that hasn’t been made before, you wonder if they could have done something wrong.”. But on rocky planets, where conditions are significantly less extreme, there’s no known way to make phosphine in the absence of life—it’s just too energetically demanding. Tucked beneath as many as 65 miles of cloud and haze, those roasted rocks are smothered by a bone-crushing amount of pressure, more than 90 times what’s felt on Earth’s surface. Clouds are ephemeral on Earth, so it’s unlikely that they support permanent ecosystems, but on Venus, cloudy days are in the forecast for millions or even billions of years. Those observations, from 2015, do not indicate a strong signal from phosphine. Greaves and her team have declined to comment on the new analyses of the ALMA observations until the observatory has had a chance to reprocess the data. Find out about the volcanoes that dot Venus's surface, the storms that rage in its atmosphere, and the surprising feature that makes Venus outshine every planet or star in the night sky. “Venus is basically still an alien planet,” he says. Astronomers recently found a tantalizing hint that life could be wafting through the clouds shrouding Venus. All rights reserved. But it seems the hunt for extraterrestrial life is far from over, as new research is already calling that discovery into question. Among the scenarios the scientists investigated were volcanic outgassing, intense lightning strikes, tectonic plates rubbing together, bismuth rain, and cosmic dust. This detection could point to extra-terrestrial “aerial” life in the Venusian atmosphere. We also know that microbes regularly hitch a ride on cloud particles, and scientists have found organisms flying more than six miles above the Caribbean. Earlier this year, researchers surmised that finding the chemical on other terrestrial planets could indicate the presence of alien metabolisms, and they suggested aiming the sharpest telescopes of the future at faraway exoplanets to probe their atmospheres for signs of the gas. Yet some scientists were dubious. A gas found on Earth that signifies life has been detected in the clouds on Venus. But everything we’ve learned about life on Earth suggests that it will move into every available nook and cranny. At the time, ALMA Observatory scientist John Carpenter questioned the way the scientists on the original team analyzed the data, suggesting that their procedure may have generated spurious signals. Venus, the second world from the sun, has long been considered Earth’s twin. This time, scientists could narrow down the molecule’s signal to equatorial latitudes and an altitude between 32 and 37 miles, where temperatures and pressures aren’t too harsh for life as we know it. JCMT did detect a spectral line at the right frequency, but the team suggests it can be explained by sulfur dioxide gas in the atmosphere of Venus, which happens to generate a spectral line in the same place. Butler downloaded the ALMA data and started from scratch, redid some of the initial calibrations, and then processed the data as he normally would. They were looking for rare gases or molecules that might be biological in origin. In 2019, Greaves, Sousa-Silva, and their colleagues followed up on the initial phosphine observation using ALMA, an array of telescopes on a high Chilean plateau. âIâm so relieved that people are finally looking at this data and itâs not just us.â, The initial detection, published in the journal Nature Astronomy in September, found that more than a thousand times the amount of phosphine gas in Earthâs atmosphere is floating through the thick, sulfuric clouds of Venus. With time, the researchers are confident they will get to the bottom of the phosphine mystery. In principle, this type of analysis allows astronomers to predict which parts of the observations are noise and which are real signals. And does this mean that we're probing deep enough, and there's no phosphine because it was never there? âI believe Encrenazâs work, and so thereâs no phosphineâthere,â Sousa-Silva says. Its surface can reach a sweltering 900 degrees Fahrenheit. âThis data is messy, and noisy, and delicate,â Sousa-Silva says. That doesn’t mean it is life… Claim that there’s phosphine on Venus comes under intense scrutiny The discovery of phosphine in the clouds around Venus in September left the world wondering what could explain its presence. The Blue Ring Nebula is thought to be a never-before-seen phase that occurs after the merger of two stars. that scientists hypothesized could be the work of aerial microbes. Even so, scientists have considered the possibility that life might exist in the Venusian cloud deck for nearly 60 years, perhaps thriving where conditions are a bit friendlier. “It’s tremendously exciting, and we have a sort of obligatory response of first questioning whether the result is real,” says David Grinspoon of the Planetary Science Institute. He also notes that the standard for remote molecular identification involves detecting multiple fingerprints for the same molecule, which show up at different frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum. The phosphine discovery presents the tantalizing possibility that life might be on Venus right now. Does it mean thereâs no phosphine because itâs variable? Despite the acid, the clouds carry the basic ingredients for life as we know it: sunlight, water, and organic molecules. Phosphine molecules were detected in the atmosphere of Venus Data was obtained from James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array The data suggests “aerial” extraterrestial life is possible due to the phosphine detection. But if phosphine really is floating through the Venusian cloud deck, its presence suggests one of two intriguing possibilities: that alien life-forms are deftly linking together phosphorus and hydrogen atoms, or that some completely unanticipated chemistry is crafting phosphine in the absence of life. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. “Otherwise, in the universe, chemistry only happens when it’s energetically favorable.”, Astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Technical University Berlin, who has considered cloud-based Venusian life, agrees a biological explanation for the phosphine is possible, but he thinks other unknown geologic or light-induced chemical reactions might yet account for the signal. Avoid certain extinction based on the planet next door revealed that it may be a a sign life. Determine whether phosphine could be made on Venus, that puddle never up! 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