Astronomers find potential signal of life high in Venus’s atmosphere


Astronomers have found a potential signal of life high in the atmosphere of neighbouring Venus: hints there could also be unusual microbes living in the sulfuric acid-laden clouds of the hothouse planet.

Two telescopes in Hawaii and Chile spotted in the thick Venutian clouds the chemical signature of phosphine, a noxious gas that on Soil is only associated with life, according to a study in Monday’s publication Nature Astronomy.

Several outdoor experts — and the study authors themselves — agreed this is tantalizing but said it is far from the first proof of life on another planet. They said it doesn’t satisfy the “abnormal claims require abnormal evidence standard established by the late Carl Sagan, who speculated approximately the potential for life in the clouds of Venus in 1967.

“It is not a smoking gun, said study co-author David Clements, an Imperial College of London astrophysicist.

“It is not even gunshot remainder on the hands of your prime suspect, but there’s a distinct whiff of cordite in the air that could be suggesting something.” As astronomers plan for searches for life on planets outdoor our solar system, a major method is to look for chemical signatures that can only be made by organic processes, called biosignatures. After three astronomers met in a bar in Hawaii, they made up our minds to look that way at the closest planet to Soil: Venus.

They searched for phosphine, which is three hydrogen atoms and a phosphorous atom.

On Soil, there are only two ways phosphine can also be formed, study authors said. One is in an industrial process. (The gas was once produced to be used as chemical warfare agent in World War I.) The opposite direction is as a part of some more or less poorly understood operate in animals and microbes. Some scientists believe it a waste product, others don’t.

Phosphine is found in “ooze at the behind of ponds, the guts of a few creatures like badgers and possibly most unpleasantly associated with piles of penguin guano,” Clements said.

Study co-author Sara Seager, an MIT planetary scientist, said researchers “exhaustively went through each and every opportunity and ruled all of them out: volcanoes, lightning strikes, small meteorites falling into the atmosphere. … Not a unmarried process we looked at could produce phosphine in high enough quantities to provide an explanation for our team’s findings.” That leaves life.

The astronomers hypothesize a scenario for how life could exist on the inhospitable planet where temperatures on the surface are around 800 degrees (425 degrees Celsius) with no water.

“Venus is hell. Venus is more or less Soil’s wicked twin,” Clements said. “Clearly something has gone improper, very improper, with Venus. It is the victim of a runaway greenhouse effect.” But that’s on the surface.

Seager said the entire action could also be 30 miles (50 kilometers) above ground in the thick carbon-dioxide layer cloud deck, where it’s approximately room temperature or rather warmer. It contains droplets with tiny amounts of water but mostly sulfuric acid that could be a billion times more acidic than what’s found on Soil.

The phosphine could be coming from some more or less microbes, probably single-cell ones, within those sulfuric acid droplets, living their entire lives in the 10-mile-deep (16-kilometer-deep) clouds, Seager and Clements said. When the droplets fall, the potential life probably dries out and could then get picked up in another drop and reanimate, they said.

Life is definitely a opportunity, but more proof is needed, several outdoor scientists said.

Cornell University astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger said the idea of this being the signature of biology at work is exciting, but she said we do not realize enough approximately Venus to say life is the only explanation for the phosphine.

“I am not skeptical, I’m hesitant,” said Justin Filiberto, a planetary geochemist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston who focuses on Venus and Mars and is not a part of the study team.

Filiberto said the levels of phosphine found might be explained absent by volcanoes. He said recent studies that were not taken into account in this latest research propose that Venus may have far more active volcanoes than originally thought. But Clements said that explanation would make sense only whether Venus were no less than 200 times as volcanically active as Soil.

David Grinspoon, a Washington-based astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute who wrote a 1997 book suggesting Venus could harbor life, said the finding “nearly seems too good to be true.” “I’m excited, but I’m also cautious,” Grinspoon said.

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