Scientists said yesterday that they discovered a gas called phosphine in the clouds of Venus that are very acidic, indicating the possibility of microbes and life on the planet near Earth.
The researchers did not discover actual life forms, but did note that phosphine on Earth is produced by bacteria that circulate in oxygen-hungry environments.
The international scientific team detected phosphine for the first time with the James Clerk Maxwell telescope in Hawaii, and they confirmed this later using the huge Atacama telescope in Chile.
“I was very surprised, I was actually dumbfounded,” said astronomer Jane Graves of Cardiff University in Wales, who leads the research team published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
It is noteworthy that the existence of extraterrestrial life has been a major scientific issue for a long time. Scientists have used probes and telescopes to search for “vital signs” – indirect signs of life – on other planets and moons in our solar system and beyond.
“With what we currently know about Venus, the most plausible explanation for phosphine, although it may seem fanciful, is life,” said Clara Souza Silva, a molecular astrophysicist at MIT who is involved in the research.
“I must emphasize that life, as an explanation for our discovery, should be, as always, the last resort … This is important because if (this gas) is phosphine, and if (it is proven) that this is life, then we are “We are not alone. It also means that life itself must be very common, and there must be many other planets inhabited throughout our galaxy.”
Venus was not the focus of the search for life in the solar system, as Mars and other worlds received more attention.
Phosphine, which is a phosphorous atom combined with three hydrogen atoms, is extremely toxic to humans.
Ground-based telescopes, like the ones used in this research, are helping scientists study the chemistry and other properties of celestial bodies.
Phosphine has been detected at a concentration of 20 parts per billion parts in Venus’ atmosphere, which is a tiny concentration. Graves said the researchers examined potential non-biological sources such as volcanic activities, meteorites, lightning strikes and various types of chemical reactions, but none showed this. The search continues to either confirm the existence of life or find an alternative explanation.
And Venus is the closest planet. Its structure is similar to Earth, but it is slightly smaller than it. It is the second planet from the Sun and the Earth is the third.
Venus is surrounded by a thick, poisonous atmosphere that traps heat. Surface temperatures reach 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), enough to melt lead.
“I can only speculate what life would have lived on Venus, if it did exist,” Souza Silva said. “No life will ever survive on the surface of Venus, because it is completely inhospitable, even for biochemistry completely different from ours … But since … A long time ago, there might have been life on the surface of Venus, before the intense heat left most of the planet unfit for life at all. ”
Some scientists suspect that the soaring clouds on Venus, which reach moderate temperatures of around 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), may harbor atmospheric microbes that could withstand intense acidity. Sulfuric acid accounts for about 90 percent of these clouds. Earth’s microbes cannot tolerate that acidity.
“If they were microorganisms, they would be able to get some sunlight and water, and they might live in liquid droplets to prevent them from drying out, but they would need an unknown mechanism to protect against acid corrosion,” Graves said.
On Earth, phosphine is produced by microorganisms in “anaerobic” environments that do not depend on oxygen. These environments include sewage plants, swamps, paddy fields, lake sediments, excrement, and intestinal canals for many animals. Phosphine is also produced in a non-biological form in some industrial settings.
“We did our best to explain this discovery without the need for a biological process. With our current knowledge of phosphine, Venus and geochemistry, we cannot explain the presence of phosphine in the clouds of Venus. This does not mean that it is life. It just means that some strange processes are produced,” Souza Silva said. Phosphine, and our understanding of flower needs work. ”
The director of the US Aeronautics and Space Administration, Jim Bridenstein, described on the social networking site “Twitter” the new results as “the most important development so far in the search for the existence of life outside Earth.” Among the missions that NASA is currently studying is sending a probe to Venus.
“It is time to prioritize flower,” said Bridenstein.
“Fortunately, Venus is right next door to us … so we can literally go and check,” Souza Silva said.