Share
submit to reddit
Pin it

2020 has been a shit year for most of us here on Earth. But it may turn out to be a landmark year for science, and the search for life outside of Earth.

The search for extra-terrestrial life has mostly focused on Mars and the icy moons of the outer solar system.

For decades, the focus of the search for extraterrestrial life has focused on Mars, the outter solar system (such as the moon Titan and Europa), and searching for non-natural radio signals from other stars. But a recent review of data from the Pioneer 13 space probe has revealed that the probe detected one of the tell-tale indications of life in the atmosphere of Venus way back in 1978. The review of Pioneer 13's data was prompted by the recent discovery (by scientists using a land-based telescope) of a chemical called phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. The findings were published in the journal Nature Astronomy a month ago, on September 14.

Phosphine is a class of gas that can be produced from atmospheric chemistry under high pressure, or as a by-product of anaerobic biology. Phosphine has also been detected in the atmosphere of gas giants such as Jupiter, where the incredibly high pressure and energy of Jupiter's interior atmosphere produces the compound, which then floats up to the upper atmosphere, where it reacts with other chemicals and oxidized (or dissolves). The atmosphere of Venus, however, lacks the higher pressure of Jupiter that would be continually-creating phosphine. As such, the chemical cannot be produced in Venus' atmosphere, in the quantities detected, by the same mechanisms that produce it on Jupiter. Another explanation is required, and the only other known way to produce this type of phosphine is through anaerobic biological processes.

Venus has been discounted as a potential candidate for life due to its toxic atmosphere and runaway greenhouse effect -- a reality that may be part of our own future here on Earth if we don't get our carbon and methane emissions under control. The surface of Venus is famously hot enough to melt lead. The atmosphere is also largely toxic, and much thicker than Earth's, leading to pressure that has crushed and melted every spacecraft or probe that humans have tried sending to the surface. If the atmosphere and surface of Venus are too inhospitable for a spacecraft, then surely it's too inhospitable for any form of life as we understand it.

The Pioneer 13 probe may have detected a bio-signature
in Venus' atmosphere back in 1978.

Or is it?

The surface of Venus and lower atmosphere is too hot, pressurized, and dominated by toxic sulfuric gas for life to likely exist. The outer atmosphere is also an unlikely host for life, since it is being constantly bombarded by lethal cosmic radiation. There is, however, a band of potentially safe atmosphere in between those two extremes. In this layer of the atmosphere, it is hypothetically possible for floating microscopic organisms to exist. It's also possible that larger organisms that float like balloons could exist at this altitude; though, that's a much more extreme and unlikely possibility.

Physicist Heinz Haber first proposed the idea in 1950. The idea was further expounded in 1967 by Carl Sagan and Harold Morowitz. After the phosphine observation last month, scientists such as Sara Seager from MIT have proposed newer models for how such life could hypothetically exist.

We need to temper our expectations. It is possible that the phosphine could be produced by some kind of chemical or geological process that we aren't currently familiar with. Natural processes that we do know about are certainly producing small quantities of the stuff at or near the surface, from which it floats up into the atmosphere and breaks down quickly. Perhaps some kind of hereto unknown volcanic reaction could be producing the additional quantities? Or a novel reaction of lightning or cosmic rays in the atmosphere?

We'll need to do further study of Venus to confirm the observation of high quantities of phosphine.

Either way, exploring Venus more thoroughly is going to be a source of new science. We'll either discover a new mechanism of producing this particular substance, which would allow us to maybe rule it out as a strong biosignature for future exoplanet exploration. Or we'll rule out other explanations, leaving us with life as the only likely explanation. Or we'll make the most exciting discovery of all: the direct observation of extraterrestrial life for the first time.

In any case, space agencies around the world should be turning their attention to our closest cosmic neighbor, Venus, and I hope to see the U.S. government (and other governments around the world) invest in sending further probes to the planet. NASA was already considering new missions to Venus. The proposals did not include life-detecting instruments, but this recent discovery will likely prompt NASA researchers to add such an instrument to whichever mission ends up being greenlit. Forget Mars! Suddenly, Venus is the place to be!

Contribute Comment

avatar


We'll incarnate your avatar from the services below.
PlayStation Network Steam Xbox LIVE Facebook MySpace Pinterest Twitter YouTube deviantART LiveJournal



biuquote
  • Comment
  • Preview


Grid Clock Widget
12      60
11      55
10      50
09      45
08      40
07      35
06      30
05      25
04      20
03      15
02      10
01      05
Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

Follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/MegaBearsFan

Patreon

If you enjoy my content, please consider Supporting me on Patreon:
Patreon.com/MegaBearsFan

FTC guidelines require me to disclose that as an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases made by clicking on Amazon product links on this site. All Amazon Associate links are for products relevant to the given blog post.

Without Gravity

And check out my colleague, David Pax's novel Without Gravity on his website!

Featured Post

How Madden Fails to Simulate Football: Quarter LengthHow Madden Fails to Simulate Football: Quarter Length06/05/2020 This series of blog post will also presented as a video essay on YouTube. My first foray into long-form video analysis was a cathartic, hour-long, breakdown of how EA and Tiburon's design philosophy causes its Madden NFL video game series to feel disappointing and stagnant. That video was mostly about how EA's insistance on...

Random Post

Don't let the threat of perma-death stop you from playing Hellblade: Senua's SacrificeDon't let the threat of perma-death stop you from playing Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice09/04/2017 Ninja Theory is a developer that doesn't have very much work under their belt, but the work that they have done has type-cast them into a very specific niche of games. They got their start with the PS3-exclusive Heavenly Sword, and then went on to develop the rebooted DMC (Devil May Cry). So they specialize in stylish, fast-paced,...

Month List

RecentComments

Comment RSS