Venus life: Phosphine discovery could be wide of the mark – study

In September, Venus made headlines after scientists discovered large swathes of phosphine in the planet’s atmosphere. By current understandings, phosphine is created through biological processes which suggested, albeit slightly, that there could be some form of microbial life on Venus.

However, a new study has found that the discovery may be based on a mistake in the data set, and that there may be no evidence of life on Venus after all.

Scientists have reanalysed the prospect of phosphine on Venus using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.

They found that phosphine levels across Venus are about one part per billion.

That is roughly a seventh of the original findings.

Cardiff University astronomer Jane Greaves, who led the new research, said that phosphine levels could vary significantly across the planet.

As a result, the previous study may have located a patch in the Venusian sky where phosphine levels were high.

When scientists make a major discovery, other academics in the field review, review and review again to search for faults in the data.

This way, experts can be sure of the results.

Bob Grimm, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who is not involved with any of the phosphine studies, said: “The scientific process is working.”

However, the only way to be completely sure of the results of either study is to head to Venus.

David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute, said: “There are 1,001 reasons to go back to Venus, and if the phosphine ‘goes away’ through further observations and analysis, there will still be 1,000 reasons to go.”

While there is certainly evidence of phosphine, no matter how big or small, scientists warn not to get carried away.

For example, there could be an unknown chemical process which causes the creation of phosphine which is not biological.

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Paul Byrne, associate professor of planetary science at North Carolina State University, wrote in The Conversation: “First, it’s critical to point out that this detection does not mean that astronomers have found alien life in the clouds of Venus. Far from it, in fact.

“Although the discovery team identified phosphine at Venus with two different telescopes, helping to confirm the initial detection, phosphine gas can result from several processes that are unrelated to life, such as lightning, meteor impacts or even volcanic activity.”

Rocket Lab may be the first to either confirm or deny the presence of microbial life in the clouds of Venus, with plans to send a rocket there before the likes of NASA.

The New Zealand-based firm is planning on sending a rocket called Electron there in 2023, which will be carrying a spaceship known as Photon.

As Photon flies by Venus, it will release a small probe which will travel towards the planet at six miles per second.

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