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Space & Astronomy

Doubts cast on 'signs of life on Venus' claim

By T.K. Randall
January 30, 2021 · Comment icon 6 comments

The case for phosphine on Venus is not looking so great. Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
A new paper has cast doubt on the presence of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of the planet Venus.
Back in September of last year there was much excitement when scientists announced that they had found phosphine in our neighboring planet's atmosphere - a possible indicator of extraterrestrial life.

With surface temperatures exceeding 860 degrees and crushing atmospheric pressures that are more than 100 times those found on our own planet, however, the conditions on Venus are undeniably hellish, which is why it has never really been considered a top candidate in the search for life in our solar system before.

The news sparked a great of debate in the scientific community, with some arguing that it was too soon to say with any degree of certainty that there really was phosphine in Venus' atmosphere.

Now, several months on from the discovery, a new paper published in The Astrophysical Journal has put forward the claim that the signal indicating the presence of phosphine on Venus had been misinterpreted and that it had instead indicated the presence of sulfur dioxide.
"Instead of phosphine in the clouds of Venus, the data are consistent with an alternative hypothesis: they were detecting sulfur dioxide," said study co-author Victoria Meadows.

"Sulfur dioxide is the third-most-common chemical compound in Venus' atmosphere, and it is not considered a sign of life."

To determine this, the team modeled the conditions on Venus and used this to re-interpret the data.

"I personally think that this is the final nail in the coffin of the phosphine hypothesis," Prof Ignas Snellen of Leiden University told Gizmodo in an email.

"Of course, one can never prove that Venus is completely phosphine-free, but at least there is now no remaining evidence to suggest otherwise. I am sure that others will keep on looking though."

Source: Gizmodo | Comments (6)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by bison 2 years ago
The new Nature article, linked below, sketches out the history of the Phosphine on Venus claim, and how it has steadily faded, under outside †scrutiny. The latest news is that phosphine may not exist at all in Venus' atmosphere.†
Comment icon #2 Posted by pallidin 2 years ago
Do humans, or cows, exhale, belch or fart phosphine gas?
Comment icon #3 Posted by bison 2 years ago
†No, complex organisms do not release phosphine gas. It is, in fact, highly poisonous.†Phosphine (PH3) is produced in small quantities by certain microbial forms of life, as they break down organic material, which is their source of nourishment.†
Comment icon #4 Posted by gillmanjoe 2 years ago
on earth
Comment icon #5 Posted by qxcontinuum 2 years ago
This is why I never trust scientists. They hypothise too much making radical announxements, then taking back. What is today it changes tomorrow and it comes back next year ... blah...
Comment icon #6 Posted by Peter B 2 years ago
At first glance I can understand your frustration. But investigating a little further suggests there's considerably more nuance to the story than I think you give it credit for. 1. The team found interesting data using one observatory, so they checked it using data from a second observatory. The second lot of data was clearer than the first. It seems pretty reasonable to me that finding similar data from separate observatories is a good starting point. 2. The team didn't make a "radical announcement". They said they'd detected phosphine in the clouds above Venus, and pointed out that the only ... [More]

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