Life on Venus: Possible ALIEN ‘bio-signature’ detected in Venus’ gassy clouds
Experts at the Royal Astronomical Society have announced phosphine has been discovered in the atmosphere of Venus. This chemical’s presence indicates some unexpected chemistry, possibly alien in origin, is occurring on the planet second-closest to the Sun.
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The colourless, flammable and toxic gas is something commonly associated with life as we know it.
When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’s spectrum, it was a shock!
Dr Jane Greaves
As a result, the consensus among astrobiologists is that the chemical phosphine should be classified as an alien “biosignature”.
The presence of phosphine is considered by most as an indicator of the possible presence of alien life.
The detection was made in tandem by Chile’s Atacama (ALMA) array and Hawaii’s James Clerk Maxwell telescope.
Both facilities observed Venus at a wavelength of approximately one millimetre, far longer than observable by the human eye.
The alien life researchers have concluded non-biological mechanisms cannot account for the large amount of the gas they have detected.
The phosphine was detected in the region within the atmosphere of Venus controversially considered by some to be potentially able to host alien life.
Astronomers have speculated for many years high clouds on Venus could offer a home for microbes.
Experts suggest these could be floating free of the scorching surface and required a very high acidity tolerance.
So this detection of phosphine could be the evidence for such extra-terrestrial life.
Dr Jane Greaves of Cardiff University, who first spotted signs of phosphine, said: “When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’s spectrum, it was a shock!”
Despite understandable concerns about the initial findings, the team were delighted to get three hours of time with the more sensitive ALMA observatory.
Then, after six months of data processing, the discovery was confirmed.
Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, of the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said: “When our team actually found phosphine in the clouds of Venus, it was a huge surprise!
“At first, I had my doubts, but once we confirmed our initial detection of the gas with an independent telescope, that was what confirmed it for me”.
Dr Hideo Sagawa of Kyoto Sangyo University proceeded to use models for the Venusian atmosphere to make more sense of the findings.
This led to the discovery that phosphine is present but scarce – only about twenty molecules in every billion.
Dr William Bains, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology led the work on assessing natural ways to make phosphine.
Ideas included sunlight, minerals blown upwards from the surface, volcanoes, or lightning.
However, none of these could make anywhere near enough of the chemical.
Natural sources were found to make at most one ten-thousandth of the amount of phosphine the telescopes saw.
To create the observed quantity of phosphine on Venus, organisms would only need to work at about 10 percent of their maximum productivity.
The researchers pointed out how any alien microbes on Venus would almost certainly be very different to what we know.
Dr Drabek-Maunder added: “This has been a great example of perseverance and teamwork.
“From our initial phosphine observation on the JCMT, our confirmation of the gas on the ALMA and the models that helped explain our observation, this was truly an international effort to understand what is causing this unusual gas in Venus’ clouds.”
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