Venus … life in other clouds?

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Is there life? outside the world? Or are we alone distinguished by life on earth? Clara Sousa says in advance that thanks to the tools we have today, we can answer these questions. Clara Sousa Salva is one of the researchers who published the results last Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy. A study that caused great fanfare among scientistsWith two telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, the researchers said they detected gas that might indicate the presence of life in layers of clouds. Venus.

This title brings us back to a question posed by the famous physicist Carl Sagan in 1967, when he wrote with Harold Morovitz an article published in the journal Nature entitledLife in the clouds of Venus?He says that although the temperatures and pressures are too high on the surface of Venus to allow life to exist in it, we will find that they are more moderate in the layers of clouds at a height of 50 kilometers from the surface, where they are close to the temperatures and pressures on Earth.

Based on several data, Sagan and Morovitz are raising what they describe as “speculation” about the existence of micro-organisms in the clouds of Venus responsible for the dark shapes due to its absorption of ultraviolet rays.

To this day this belief has remained mere speculation. Clara Sousa and her colleagues did not find in their research any organisms responsible for absorbing ultraviolet rays, but they spotted a different indicator that, in further studies, could be considered evidence of life, and the indicator is the abundance of phosphine in the atmosphere. The only natural source responsible for producing phosphine gas on Earth are microbial organisms that live in oxygen-free environments. Phosphine can also be produced industrially by humans. Phosphine is present on planet Earth in a minuscule concentration measured per trillion molecules.

The only natural source responsible for producing phosphine gas on Earth are microbial organisms that live in oxygen-free environments

The researchers who monitored phosphine in Venus said that they designed the experiment to measure the concentration of phosphine per billion of the molecules of the atmosphere, and that their goal was to start by defining a measurement reference frame that they could develop in future observations, but they were surprised that there is a quantity that can be measured at the standards Preliminary from the experience. They found phosphine at a concentration of 20 parts per billion parts, which is insignificant compared to the concentration of phosphine on Earth.

Of course, this is not sufficient to consider that phosphine is the result of a biochemistry that occurs in microbes. The researchers said that they studied all the known geological processes of lightning, volcanoes and meteors, and alternative chemical reactions through which phosphine could be produced on Venus, and found that all of these were not sufficient to explain the abundance of gas in the planet’s clouds. In terrestrial planets such as Venus, there are no processes by which phosphine can be produced and carried to the mantle as is the case in gaseous planets, such as Jupiter and Saturn. In addition, phosphorous in terrestrial planets can only be oxidized. If phosphine were present in the atmosphere of Venus, it should not last long and would react quickly with oxygen.

Here, scientists conclude that there must be another source in the atmosphere that produces phosphine continuously and rapidly, to compensate for its interaction with oxygen. Before determining that phosphine is actually produced by microbial organisms, more research will be required, especially since our knowledge of the flower is not sufficient, and this was not overlooked by the study, which indicated the possibility of other processes that we do not know that may be responsible for the production of phosphine on the flower.

The first data collected from the surface of Venus are thanks to the Soviet Union’s “Venera” program

For years, Mars has been the center of the search for life in the Solar System beyond Earth. NASA has invested many spacecraft to photograph Mars and collect data on it. While Venus is the closest planet to Earth, its surface environment is very harsh, and its extreme heat and high pressure at its surface cause the destruction of spacecraft that dock on it within a short time.

The first data collected from the surface of Venus are thanks to the “Venera” program launched by the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. Venera is the first to enter the atmosphere of a planet other than Earth.

If phosphine is actually proven to be the product of microbial organisms that have adapted to the harsh acidic environment in the atmosphere, scientists will have to deal with new, more complex questions about the source of these organisms: Did they come to Venus from Earth? Or from Mars? Or did it start on the surface of Venus when its habitat was suitable for life? Are they the “remnants” of living creatures that lived on the planet’s surface millions of years ago?

Image of the surface of Venus taken by the Soviet probe Venera 13 (Twitter)

There are studies indicating that the surface environment of Venus was in the past moderate and suitable for life, including a study published by the team of Michael Way and Anthony Delginho in 2016 based on measurements that show that the surface of Venus contained liquid water over a period of 3 billion years, and the planet became unviable before 715 Only a million years. It is then believed that massive, destructive volcanic activities led to what is known as a “full reshaping of the surface of Venus”, the cause of which remains unknown.

We must not rush with enthusiasm and remember that in the past there were studies that indicated the presence of microorganisms in space that aroused a lot of excitement before they were later disproved. Perhaps the most important of these is the NASA announcement in 1996, which revealed the remains of ancient bacteria on a small Martian meteorite, and the US President at the time, Bill Clinton, gave a speech celebrating the discovery. However, other scientists later showed that the evidence for bacteria on the Martian meteorite was not conclusive and considered weak.

Sagan says, “Astronomers are, in the end, human beings, and no matter how scarce the data they have, they cannot resist speculating and hypothesizing about the nature of planets. Once more data is revealed, the number of possible possibilities decreases, until the day comes when only one explanation remains.” .. ” There is no doubt that the data on Venusian clouds has increased, but we have yet to come up with only one explanation that answers definitively the question that Sagan posed more than fifty years ago: Is there life in the clouds of Venus?

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