It sounds ridiculous, bizarre and even silly. Life in Venus, the warmest planet in the solar system? This is a world that is often mistaken for Earth, where extreme climate change has brought it closer to the hell we have ever seen. And now we are told it could be the life of an alien. This is a discovery that, if proven true, could have profound consequences for how we view our position in the universe. The problem? This is being proved.
The idea of life about Venus is not new, at least not in the 1960s, when the late American astronomer Carl Sagan discussed the possibility. “It is by no means difficult to imagine an indigenous biology in the clouds of Venus, if a small amount of minerals are ignited towards the clouds,” he wrote in a paper. Nature In 1967.
Now, more than five decades later, scientists have discovered phosphine on Venus. Phosphine – a mixture of phosphorus and hydrogen – is considered a potential biomarker. In other words, we know it can be produced by life, and its detection points to biological production.
“[We tried] Revisiting the list of options to explain the presence of phosphine present, “said Sukrita Ranjan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, co-author of the research paper. Nature Astronomy. “Everything has become shorter. So we’ve left things that haven’t been completely canceled yet. These include chemistry and biology that we do not yet know. ”
Phosphine can be produced by many non-biological processes. These include geological sources such as volcanic activity, or even extreme pressure environments where hydrogen has been compressed together – such as above Jupiter and Saturn. On Earth, phosphine is produced by some anaerobic microbial life, which requires little oxygen. Similar extreme life forms, perhaps, could make their home in the Venetian clouds.
“This discovery is incredibly exciting,” said Sara Raghaimer from Oxford University, whose research involves exploring the life of exoplanets around the world outside the solar system. “It’s either a chemistry that’s really different and unusual, or it’s life.”
The discovery was led by Jane Greaves from Cardiff University, two of the world’s telescopes – the James Clark Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and the Atacama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.
In the atmosphere of Venus, 50 kilometers away from its surface, its presence outside the hellish conditions of the planet’s surface where high temperatures and pressures render life, in an area that is thought to be the hospitality of life know it is unimaginable.
We even have a lot of hoops in it before we consider the possibility of production by animals on Venus. First, other astronomers would have to use the same and other telescopes to check and reproduce the falsespin. Astronomers will then want to investigate how phosphine can be produced and do more experiments to see if it can cancel out more non-biological processes. “[We need] Many more laboratory studies [and] Some basic parameters are nail calculations, ”says Ranjan.
After that, we can consider sending missions to investigate phosphine in more detail, perhaps one day even looking for life on Venus. This could probably be very cautious progress until we get to this stage. Venus already has several missions on the drawing board. NASA is considering two proposals for the planet, DavicCI + and Veritas, which will include an earlier atmospheric probe that could possibly detect phosphine-like gases. Several more missions are underway. India plans to launch a mission this decade, when Russia has long talked about sending a spacecraft there, which led to most of the previous Venus explorations in the 1970s and 1980s. Europe is also considering a mission called Envision in 2033.
Many of these missions are designed with other goals in mind – such as mapping the surface of Venus or exploring volcanic activity. To find life, if it were really there, we would need a new kind of mission. “Ultimately we want to create a sample of the atmosphere and bring that sample back to test it,” said Richard Gail, from the University of Royal Holloway in London, at the top of the Envision proposal. “It means any kind of balloon with a sample return [capability], Or a huge enough balloon with some of its kits.
Such missions may be years or even decades away, but there are things that can be done in the near future. The U.S. non-governmental organization Rocket Lab expects to launch a small mission to Venus as early as 2023, which will include an atmospheric probe, and the company is exploring what small instruments might be included to find life.
Scientists will also want to continue studying the atmosphere of Venus from Earth, not only to confirm the presence of phosphins individually, but also to investigate various experiments that could recreate it here in the laboratory.
If, after all these studies, the symptoms continue to point to life, we can begin to think about what kind of life it might be. At the moment, thought it would be a bit of an airborne germ in the Venetian sky, living in droplets from the planet’s dense clouds.
“Our best guess is that living in a cloud drop is somehow microbial life,” said William Baines of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who also co-authored the paper. “The chances of life at the bottom are remarkably small. We know that there are airborne germs on Earth, so if the conditions are right for Venus, they have a tempting chance of appearing there.
Venus conditions are not ideal. These droplets will heat up as they fall from the sky, killing any microbial life present in them. Instead, it may be that the stems are in an uninterrupted cycle of evaporation and collapse, the microorganisms clinging to the equestrian. “You have a cycle in the clouds,” Bains said, adding that perhaps a few drops will also come to the surface, although no one is likely to survive this voyage. “It will be baked in stuff like charcoal,” he explains.
This is a possibility of stinginess but for now it is just that. If the phosphine discovery is sustained and we cannot explain it through non-biological processes – which most scientists would agree on, it is probably the most likely result – but things could be very interesting.
Venus has long been overshadowed by other more tempting targets such as Mars or Jupiter’s moon Europa in search of life. Now, with this phosphine discovery we can find our own hellish version of the solar system at the top of the list. “It will probably take more than a decade to hammer out what is happening,” Rughaimer said. “Phosphine is very interesting as a bio-signature. It just came from a place where we would at least expect life.
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