Venus is common The planet Earth is called the sister, the adjacent twin of equal density and size. But the resemblance stops there. As the hottest planet in our solar system, the stifling atmosphere of Venus is full of carbon dioxide that captures heat and clouds of sulfuric acid that cover its dry, volcanic land.
So it’s one of the last places anyone can think of to look for life beyond our planet.
As a result, a team of scientists led by Jane Greaves of Cardiff University was shocked last September. a possible sign of a stranger’s life In the atmosphere of Venus. In examination, published in Astronomy of NatureThey reported the detection of a colorless gas called phosphine in the clouds of the planet and concluded that unknown chemical or geological processes could not explain its presence. Phosphine could indicate life, they argued, they warned last job MIT astrophysicist Clara Sousa-Silva suggests the gas may be biosignature. On land, phosphine is commonly found in places that take on anaerobic life, such as lakes, swamps, canyons, and landfill sludge.
But when the news reached astronomer Jonathan Lunine Cornell University, he and Ngoc Truong graduate students were immediately skeptical. “The problem is that phosphine is called a biosignature of Venus simply because the Venus environment is completely different from the Earth’s environment,” Truong says. Even on our planet, he says, there is confusion as to whether phosphine is associated with life, and he believes this should be confirmed before these observations can be extrapolated to environments other than our own.
Truong and Lunine were not alone in their doubts: after the phosphine announcement, the Internet exploded with discussions about the discovery. Scientists weighed in on Twitter threads, discussed it on Facebook posts, and went for it arXiv.org, a prepress server for scientific research, to establish other theories for the non-biological processes that produce phosphine.
Truong, who until then had been studying the oceans of Saturn’s moons, was convinced that Lunine needed to explore one more potential source of phosphine in particular: volcanoes. Their research a new study published in the magazine on Monday Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Truong and Lunine show how phosphine can enter the atmosphere of Venus. The amount of phosphide found in the mantle of Venus (traces of negatively charged phosphorus ions to metals such as iron) could be thrown to the surface as a result of volcanic activity. When volcanoes explode, these phosphides can be released into the atmosphere and react chemically with sulfuric acid in the clouds to form phosphine.
According to Truong, “our research only suggests a roadmap for assessing the level of volcanic eruptions.” Two conditions are needed for an explanation to be viable. First, the planet must be volcanically active. (Although thousands of volcanoes have been seen on radar images of Venus, scientists have no data to confirm the latest eruptions, so far, the lander can only withstand the heat and violent pressure of the Venusian surface for about an hour.) “And not just active in the sense of‘ Hawaiian-style volcanism, ’” says Lunin, who typically generates lava flows without large explosives. The volcanism of explosives is crucial because there must be a mechanism for the expulsion of phosphides into the atmosphere.
Second, scientists should verify that phosphine is actually present it is now a horrible point of contention. Without this proof, Lunin says, the volcanic theory “becomes an empty postulate rather than a hypothesis.”