science

A new study suggests that the exciting signal for “ life ” on Venus was simple, ancient sulfur dioxide

A new study suggests that the exciting signal for `` life '' on Venus was simple, ancient sulfur dioxide

The night side of Venus as seen in the thermal infrared.

The night side of Venus as seen in the thermal infrared.
picture: JAXA / ISAS / DARTS / Damia Bouic

Scientists astonished the world in the past yearEar by claiming to be discovered Effects of phosphine In the clouds of Venus. New research suggests this gas – and it’s interesting, Produced by microbesHe was not actually responsible for the signal they discovered. Instead, it would have been sulfur dioxide, a chemical that is not very exciting.

Exceptional Research The Nature publication last September is challenged by a research paper due to be published in The Astrophysical Journal, of which a preliminary version is currently being released. Available In arXiv. This is not my first paper Cash Phosphine is clearly discovered on Venus, and it probably won’t be the last.

This phosphine may have been present on Venus as a discovery that dawned our minds, because living things are one of the only known sources of stink gas. The team responsible for the apparent discovery, led by astronomer Jane Graves of Cardiff University, found evidence in spectral signals collected by two radio dishes: the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) and the Atacama Large Millimeter / Millimeter Array (ALMA). Spectral lines at certain wavelengths indicate the presence of specific chemicals, in this case the presence of phosphine in the layer of the pink cloud.

The authors of the study of nature did not claim that life existed on Venus. Instead, they were asking the scientific community to explain their somewhat strange observations. In fact, this was an exceptional claim, as it indicates that Venus – one of the most inhospitable planets in the solar system – might actually be habitable, with microscopic creatures floating through the clouds.

Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case.

“Instead of phosphine in the clouds of Venus, the data fit into an alternative hypothesis: They were discovering sulfur dioxide,” said Victoria Meadows, a co-author on the new study and a professor of astronomy at the University of Washington. statement. “Sulfur dioxide is the third most common chemical compound in the atmosphere of Venus, and is not considered a sign of life.”

Meadows, along with researchers from NASA, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of California, Riverside, reached this conclusion by modeling conditions inside the Venusian atmosphere, which they did to re-interpret the radio data gathered by the original team.

“This is what’s known as a radiative transfer model, and it incorporates data from several decades’ worth of observations of Venus from multiple sources, including observatories here on Earth and spacecraft missions like Venus Express,” explained Andrew Lincowski, a researcher with the UW Department of Astronomy and the lead author of the paper, in the statement.

Equipped with the model, the researchers simulated spectral lines produced by phosphine and sulphur at multiple atmospheric altitudes on Venus, as well as how those signatures were received by ALMA and JCMT. Results showed that the shape of the signal, detected at 266.94 gigahertz, likely came from the Venusian mesosphere—an extreme height where sulphur dioxide can exist but phosphine cannot owing to the harsh conditions there, according to research. In fact, so extreme is this environment that phosphine wouldn’t last for more than a few seconds.

As the authors argue, the original researchers understated the amount of sulphur dioxide in the Venusian atmosphere and instead attributed the 266.94 gigahertz signal to phosphine (both phosphine and sulphur dioxide absorb radio waves around this frequency). This happened, according to the researchers, due to an “undesirable side-effect” known as spectral line dilution, study co-author and NASA JPL scientist Alex Akins explained in the statement.

“They inferred a low detection of sulfur dioxide because of [an] An artificially weak ALMA signal, ”Linkoski added.“ But our modeling indicates that the line-attenuated ALMA data would still be consistent with typical or even large amounts of flower sulfur dioxide, which could fully explain the observed JCMT signal. ”

This new finding may be damaging to Nature’s paper, and it will be interesting to hear the authors’ reaction to this latest criticism. However, some scholars believe that the writing is already on the wall, or more accurately, in the trash.

“After the original work was quickly published, we and the others put strong doubts in their analysis,” Ignace Snellen, professor at Leiden University, wrote in an email. “Now, I personally believe that this is the final nail in the coffin of the phosphine hypothesis. Of course, one can never prove that Venus is completely free of phosphine, but at least there is no remaining evidence to suggest otherwise. I am sure others will continue to do so. search “.

Last December, Snellen and colleagues challenged the study of nature, arguing that the method used by Graves’ team resulted in a “false” loud signal-to-noise ratio and that there was “no statistical evidence” of phosphine on Venus.

The apparent absence of phosphine on Venus, and thus the absence of any hints of microbial life, is much less interesting than the opposite, but that’s what happens sometimes. Science makes no claims or promises about the attractiveness of all things, and we, as defenders of the scientific method, must accept our open universe as we find it.

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