For obvious reasons, finding evidence of phosphine on Venus would be very appealing. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no Although phosphine is a sign of life on our planet, Venus is an alien planet, so the science behind the phosphine discovered is unknown. Even so, Sanjay Limaye, a planetary scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says the discovery is exciting enough to continue searching, and preferably from a much closer vantage point. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1449240174198-2'); }); Shortly thereafter, a series of papers was published that questioned the observations and conclusions, with one team going as far as to say there was "no phosphine" in Venus's atmosphere at all. 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. Based on their reanalysis of the data, Mogul and his colleagues found evidence of phosphorus. ‘Dr. We do not guarantee individual replies due to extremely high volume of correspondence. “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. that scientists hypothesized could be the work of aerial microbes. There was also the recent announcement that the amino acid glycine was discovered in Venus's atmosphere, another potential biomarker. She had concluded that phosphine could be one of life’s beacons, even though paradoxically, it’s lethal to everything on Earth that requires oxygen to survive. For most of its history, Venus could have been as habitable as Earth—until sometime in the last billion years, when ballooning greenhouse gases transformed the planet from an oasis into a death trap. “Something weird is happening.”. “They took the right steps to verify the signal, but I’m still not convinced that this is real,” Carpenter says. Although Venus is a roasting world today, observations suggest that it once had a liquid water ocean. In 1978, this missions studies Venus' cloud layer using a probe that it dropped into the atmosphere. This is the team's first public response to the criticisms that were made in the wake of their original findings. In September, an international team announced that they had discovered phosphine gas (PH3) in the atmosphere of Venus based on data obtained by the Atacama Millimeter-submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii. Still, ALMA observatory scientist John Carpenter is skeptical that the phosphine observations themselves are real. Calçada & NASA/JPL-Caltech, (CC BY 4.0)) A … You can be assured our editors closely monitor every feedback sent and will take appropriate actions. part may be reproduced without the written permission. These levels, they indicate, likely peak at five parts per billion (ppm) and vary over time and depending on location. Near the giant planets’ cores, the temperatures and pressures are extreme enough to craft the molecule, which then rises through the atmosphere. 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. “I was really fascinated by the macabre nature of phosphine on Earth,” she says. The information you enter will appear in your e-mail message and is not retained by in any form. In the relevant paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy on Monday, researchers detail their discovery that the upper atmosphere of Venus contains trace amounts of phosphine … Here, the research team indicated that the spectral data that was interpreted as phosphine (PH3) was actually too close to sulfur dioxide (SO2), which is common in Venus atmosphere. Now, we may have found signs of phosphine on the planet next door, astronomers report in the journal Nature Astronomy. In the past, scientists have speculated that life could exist … Traces of a rare molecule known as phosphine have been found in the hellish, heavily acidic atmosphere of Venus… It is most commonly produced by organic life forms, although it can be created artifically. Venus lacks the high temperatures and pressures to form phosphine the way gas giants such as Jupiter do; thus another explanation for its presence is required. 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. Any life there now is “much more likely to be a relic of a more dominating early biosphere,” says Penelope Boston, a NASA astrobiologist who specializes in studying microbes in weird places on Earth. 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. Several proposed missions are moving through review, including an elaborate, multi-spacecraft concept led by Gilmore of Wesleyan University, which will be evaluated by the planetary science community as it sets its priorities for the next decade of solar system exploration. Kornmesser/L. The news was met with its fair share of skepticism and controversy since phosphine is considered a possible indication of life (AKA a biosignature). Among the scenarios the scientists investigated were volcanic outgassing, intense lightning strikes, tectonic plates rubbing together, bismuth rain, and cosmic dust. By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Privacy Policy From this, they concluded that there "no statistically significant detection of phosphine" in Venus' atmosphere and that the previous results were, in fact, "spurious.". Has there ever been a planet-planet eclipse (i.e., observed from Earth)? An extremely important discovery as the concentration of phosphine found in Venus’ atmosphere makes it a possible biomarker, pointing to signs of life. or, by Matt Williams, Universe Today. Gilmore’s concept includes several orbiters and a balloon that would closely study the Venusian atmosphere and look for signs of life. Or perhaps the archival observations Greaves analyzed didn’t probe deeply enough into the clouds. In the original study, which was published in the Sept. 14th issue of Nature Astronomy, the team presented findings from ALMA and the JCMT that indicated the presence of PH3 around Venus' cloud deck. In fact, phosphine has been detected in Jupiter's atmosphere, where it forms as a result of planet-sized convective storms that generate tremendous amounts of energy. Your opinions are important to us. If phosphine is present on Venus, and was generated by the mechanism that the authors proposed, it should occasionally rise up to the cloud-tops, making an … More sensitive than the Hawaii-based telescope, ALMA also observes the sky at radio frequencies, and it can detect the energy emitted and absorbed by any phosphine molecules spinning in the Venusian atmosphere. Inspired by the possibility, biochemist Rakesh Mogul of the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona and his colleagues reexamined data from NASA's Pioneer Venus mission. (Image: © ESO/M. But COVID-19 got in the way, and the team’s attempts have been put on hold. Whether this compound exists there or not, Venus is still a bundle of mysteries just waiting to be solved! The next mission selection is scheduled to take place in 2021. “Venus is such a complex, amazing system, and we don’t understand it. Why it matters: The announcement that researchers may have spotted a signal of the gas phosphine in Venus' atmosphere was met with excitement by the public and scientists alike, heralded as a possible sign that microbes could live in the planet's clouds. This makes the existence of animal life unlikely. While the phenomenon is more likely due to the presence of sulfur-containing compounds, a handful of scientists have since elaborated on the possibility of airborne Venusians, laying out scenarios in which microbes might metabolize sulfur compounds, stay afloat among the ever-present clouds, and even develop life cycles enabled by periods of dormancy at varying altitudes. A model for biological production of phosphine on Venus. Despite the acid, the clouds carry the basic ingredients for life as we know it: sunlight, water, and organic molecules. Named after the ancient Roman goddess of beauty, Venus is known for its exceptional brightness. 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. Your feedback will go directly to Science X editors. 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. and Terms of Use. “On Venus, that puddle never dries up,” Grinspoon says. Posted: Tuesday, September 15, 2020 An international team of astronomers detected phosphine (PH3) in the atmosphere of Venus. Luckily, after re-analyzing the ALMA data, the team responsible for the original discovery concluded that there is indeed phosphine in the cloud tops of Venus—just not as much as they initially thought. If true, the paper would have been our strongest evidence yet of life beyond Earth, but the tone of some of the resulting criticism – as well as a surprising statement from … The debate over phosphine on Venus rages on. An international team of astronomers has detected phosphine on Venus, potentially signaling signs of life in the planet’s atmosphere, reports Shannon Stirone, Kenneth Chang and Dennis Overbye for The New York Times. Among the signatures they spotted was that of phosphine gas, a pyramidal molecule comprising three hydrogen atoms joined to a single phosphorus atom. In other words, if the observation of phosphine on Venus is right, something must be continually replenishing the molecule in the planet’s atmosphere. “We need to go explore and find out.”. I presumed it was a mistake, but I very much wanted it to not be a mistake,” says study co-author Clara Sousa-Silva, a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who initially identified phosphine as a potential biosignature. Based on the signal’s strength, the team calculated that phosphine’s abundance is roughly 20 parts per billion, or at least a thousand times more than we find on Earth. … Here, we find microbes thriving in hostile, corrosive environments such as hot springs and volcanic fields. This site uses cookies to assist with navigation, analyse your use of our services, and provide content from third parties. On Earth, phosphine is part of the phosphorus biochemical cycle and is likely the result of phosphate reduction in decaying organic matter. 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. Phospine gas detected in the temperate mid-altitude clouds is teasing scientists with a possible signature for life. Dark higher-altitude clouds obscure the brighter mid-altitude clouds in this image of Venus taken by an infrared camera on board Japan's Akatsuki Venus Climate Orbiter. On Earth, this gas signifies … On Earth, phosphine is rarely found outside of swamps, penguin poop and lightning strikes. As far as we know, on rocky planets such as Venus and Earth, phosphine can only be made by life—whether human or microbe. Volcanic activity and lightning on Venus would not be sufficient to add more of this constantly disappearing phosphine, according to the researchers’ models. On September 14, a team of researchers led by Jane Greaves of Used as a chemical weapon during World War I, phosphine is still manufactured as an agricultural fumigant, is used in the semiconductor industry, and is a nasty byproduct of meth labs. Venus, the second world from the sun, has long been considered Earth’s twin. Sousa-Silva agrees that the team needs to confirm the phosphine detection by finding additional fingerprints at other wavelengths. On Monday, an international team of astronomers presented evidence that the cloud tops of Venus contain traces of phosphine — a toxic, rancid gas … The content is provided for information purposes only. Scientists are trying to parse out whether a possible sign of life seen in Venus' clouds is truly there. “If it’s real, it’s a very cool result, but it needs follow-up to make it really convincing.”. It’s extremely hard to make, and the chemistry in the clouds should destroy the molecule before it can accumulate to the observed amounts. 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. This document is subject to copyright. Get weekly and/or daily updates delivered to your inbox. Again, the team detected phosphine. The phosphine line was seen first with the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in 2016, and then again by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in 2019. Your email address is used only to let the recipient know who sent the email. Possible signs of life on planet Venus 01:58. In September, news about the possibility of floating, cloud-based life on Venus caused a storm in the science world as tumultuous as the sulfur clouds that rain acid down on the second planet from the Sun. It probably had an ocean for billions of years, and it’s right there. They were looking for rare gases or molecules that might be biological in origin. “Life is the only thing that will put energy into making molecules,” Sousa-Silva says. And near the middle of the cloud layer, temperatures and pressures are rather Earthlike. In any case, these results demand further investigation and have led to renewed proposals for missions to Venus," possibly in the form of a balloon or an airship. According to another study that was led by Leiden University (November 17, 2020, Astronomy & Astrophysics), the spectral data obtained by ALMA could be explained by the presence of compounds other than phosphine gas. They studied the origin of phosphine, but no inorganic processes, including supply from volcanos and atmospheric photochemistry can explain the detected amount of phosphine. It’s just a matter of going,” Gilmore says. This, they claim, is further bolstered by the JCMT spectra that indicated the chemical fingerprints of phosphine. For centuries, hopeful humans thought its surface might be covered in oceans, lush vegetation, and verdant ecosystems, providing a second oasis for life in the solar system. “There are a lot of things we don’t understand.”. When the corrected ALMA data was posted on November 16th, Greaves and her colleagues ran a fresh analysis and posted it ahead of peer review on arXiv. “It’s shirt-sleeve weather, with all these tasty things to eat,” says Martha Gilmore, a Wesleyan University planetary scientist and leader of a proposed mission to Venus, referring to molecules in the planet’s air that microbes could metabolize. 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. Medical Xpress covers all medical research advances and health news, Tech Xplore covers the latest engineering, electronics and technology advances, Science X Network offers the most comprehensive sci-tech news coverage on the web. While it was found that all of those processes are possible on Venus, they cannot account for the concentration of phosphine observed — which comes in at nearly 20 parts per billion. You can unsubscribe at any time and we'll never share your details to third parties. “We have the technology right now to go into the atmosphere of Venus. But phosphine is also made naturally by some species of anaerobic bacteria—organisms that live in the oxygen-starved environments of landfills, marshlands, and even animal guts. “Venus is basically still an alien planet,” he says. Their revised findings were also presented at a meeting of the Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG), a NASA community forum, that took place on November 17. According to Greaves and her colleagues, the ALMA data demonstrated a spectral signature that cannot be explained by anything other than the compound phosphene. And it’s another Earth. Now the potential discovery of the gas on Venus means we're seeing life in a new way 2020 National Geographic Partners, LLC. In the meantime, Greaves and other researchers hope to have more time with Earth-based telescopes (including ALMA) to confirm the presence of phosphine. the clouds carry the basic ingredients for life as we know it: absorb more ultraviolet light than expected. As far as we know, on rocky planets such as Venus and Earth, phosphine can only be made by life—whether human or microbe. Plus, the planet’s atmosphere is primarily suffocating carbon dioxide populated by sulfuric acid clouds. Maybe phosphine doesn’t actually exist on Venus, or maybe it varies over time. “It’s disappointing that we don’t have this proof,” Sousa-Silva says. But everything we’ve learned about life on Earth suggests that it will move into every available nook and cranny. In the outer solar system, phosphine is made deep in the interiors of Jupiter and Saturn. Phosphine is a colourless, flammable, very toxic gas compound made up of one phosphorus and three hydrogen atoms (PH₃). 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. The only other explanation was bacteria floating in Venus's cloud deck. While its presence cannot currently be explained through non-biological means, its detection is a glimmer of light for the once-impossible notion of life on Venus. New study springs a surprise, Recombinant collagen polypeptide as a versatile bone graft biomaterial, Abnormal conductivity in low angle twisted bilayer graphene, Indian astronomers detect companion star to V1787 Ori, Melting ice patch in Norway reveals large collection of ancient arrows, A phononic crystal coupled to a transmission line via an artificial atom, Our Beautiful Universe - Photos and Videos, Solar Activity and Space Weather Update thread. Early science observations of the planet next door revealed that it is a menace of a world that could kill Earthlings in multiple ways. 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. “When I first started talking about it, there was a lot of resistance, mostly because it’s such a harshly acidic environment,” says Grinspoon, who has pushed the idea of cloud-borne life on Venus since the mid-1990s. Science X Daily and the Weekly Email Newsletter are free features that allow you to receive your favorite sci-tech news updates in your email inbox. Used as a chemical weapon during World War I, … The announcement in September took the world by storm: Researchers using two radio telescopes found signs that the clouds of Venus were harboring phosphine, a … Neither your address nor the recipient's address will be used for any other purpose. The study team set out to determine whether phosphine could be made on Venus in the absence of biology. It’s about the same size as our home planet, with similar gravity and composition. “Whether it’s life or not, it has to be a really exotic mechanism,” Sousa-Silva says. Jane Greaves, who led the discovery team (and is an astronomer at Cardiff University, U.K.), claims that they were motivated to reexamine their original conclusions because the original ALMA data contained a "spurious signal" that could have thrown off their results. “When somebody comes up with an extraordinary observation that hasn’t been made before, you wonder if they could have done something wrong.”. Venus: Could it really harbour life? elaborated on the possibility of airborne Venusians, life cycles enabled by periods of dormancy, pushed the idea of cloud-borne life on Venus since the mid-1990s, found organisms flying more than six miles above the Caribbean, phosphine could be one of life’s beacons, Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, the last time NASA sent a probe to the planet was in 1989. All rights reserved., made naturally by some species of anaerobic bacteria, finding the chemical on other terrestrial planets could indicate the presence of alien metabolisms. An artist's depiction of Venus and, in the inset, phosphine molecules. "This is an astonishing … Scientists caution that the detection itself needs to be verified, as the phosphine fingerprint described in the study could be a false signal introduced by the telescopes or by data processing. An international team of astronomers, led by Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University, today announced the discovery of a rare molecule—phosphine—in the clouds of Venus… Venus is a known natural radio emitter, and phosphine creates a characteristic “dip” in that emission due to its presence. 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. They studied the origin of … “The clouds are continuous and thick and globe-spanning.”. Something deadly might be wafting through the clouds shrouding Venus—a smelly, flammable gas called phosphine that annihilates life-forms reliant on oxygen for survival. Thus its presence within the atmosphere of Venus raises the tantalizing possibility that something is alive in that atmosphere. “It is intriguing that it may point to something strange going on in the atmosphere of Venus, but is it exotic chemistry, or is it life?” he says. Ironically, though, the scientists who today announced sightings of this noxious gas in the Venusian atmosphere say it could be tantalizing—if controversial—evidence of life on the planet next door. A paper published in Nature Astronomy by a group of international astronomers explained how they detected phosphine (PH₃), a gaseous molecule […] In June 2017, Cardiff University’s Jane Greaves and colleagues took a look at Venus using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, which scans the sky in radio wavelengths from its perch atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Click here to sign in with © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, © 2015- Phosphine’ and the Possibility of Life on Venus Scientists found hints of alien life floating in Venus's atmosphere by focusing on a long-ignored, simple compound: phosphine… In the past, scientists have speculated that life could exist in the planet's cloud deck, where temperatures are stable enough that extremophiles could survive. In addition to criticism, supporting evidence was also inspired by the team's original paper—which was also presented at VEXAG on November 17. Schulze-Makuch says it’s completely within the realm of possibility to do an atmospheric sample-return mission, sending a spacecraft to swoop through the clouds and gather gas and particles to bring back to Earth. If the “methane on Mars” saga is illustrative, it could be years and many observations before phosphine on Venus is definitively verified or excluded. That’s something that the team has not yet done with phosphine. That processing, he says, may have returned an artificial signal at the same frequency as phosphine. In the September 14, 2020 Nature Astronomy issue Dr. Jane Greaves reports the discovery of 20 ppb of phosphine (PH 3) gas in Venus’ atmosphere, based on millimeter-wave observations [1].This spectacular discovery is simply astounding. An international team of astronomers detected phosphine (PH 3) in the atmosphere of Venus. “It’s a killing machine ... and almost a romantic biosignature because it was a sign of death.”. ESO / M. Kornmesser / L. Calçada & NASA / JPL / Caltech “We used the most favorable wavelength,” says Jane Greaves (Cardiff University, UK), who led the study that detected phosphine at Venus. The favored path for reduction of atmospheric phosphorus species to phosphine is reduction of phosphoric acid to phosphine (upper reaction pathway on the schematic above). This could evidence of phosphine or some other phosphorus compound, though Mogul and his team believe phosphine is the most likely candidate. Thank you for taking your time to send in your valued opinion to Science X editors. If true, this situation is similar to what scientists have observed on Mars, where methane levels wax and wane over the course of a Martian year and vary from place to place. “While the surface conditions of Venus make the hypothesis of life there implausible, the clouds of Venus are a different story altogether,” Carl Sagan and Harold Morowitz wrote in the journal Nature back in 1967. On Monday, a team of scientists announced its members had detected phosphine gas … Finding phosphine on Venus would be tantalizing because microbes produce the gas on Earth. For obvious reasons, finding evidence of phosphine on Venus would be very appealing. Regardless, several scientists argued at VEXAG that a modest level of even 1 ppm phosphine cannot be attributed to processes like volcanism or lightning. Its surface can reach a sweltering 900 degrees Fahrenheit. On the more immediate horizon, a smaller mission to study the deep atmosphere of Venus, named DAVINCI+, is one of the four finalists in NASA’s Discovery program competition. On Venus, there are no known chemistry or photochemical pathways for its creation. Phosphine gas is made by microorganisms, but it is poisonous to animals, including humans. She’s skeptical, though. It can be done.”, False color photo by JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic, Possible sign of life on Venus stirs up heated debate. Researchers saw phosphine's signal in spectrograms from two radio telescopes they used to capture the data, and estimated there were 20 parts per billion of the compound in Venus' clouds. “I immediately freaked out, of course. Put simply, phosphine shouldn’t be in the Venusian atmosphere. Not long after, Greaves got in touch with Sousa-Silva, who spent her years in graduate school working out whether phosphine could be a viable extraterrestrial biosignature. Perhaps, as the scorched surface became less hospitable, life-forms migrated into the clouds to avoid certain extinction. 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. Phosphine, a stinky, toxic and flammable gas found on Earth, has been detected in the atmosphere of Venus. An international team of astronomers detected phosphine (PH3) in the atmosphere of Venus. Phosphine has also been detected in the temperate zone of Venus' atmosphere (approximately 50 km (31 mi) altitude) at 20 ppb, a concentration which is not possible with known chemical processes. The only non-organic (AKA abiotic) mechanism for the production of phosphine involves high temperatures and pressures, which are common within the atmospheres of gas giants.