Is Phosphine-3 Proof of Aliens on Venus?

No. 

I’ll just get right to the point.

No doubt you’ve heard the news, but if you haven’t a paper was release via NATURE about a team of astronomers who have isolated a phosphine absorption line (PH3) in their spectral analysis of Venus, using two different telescopes, several different reduction methods and measurable uncertainties. The amount of PH3 is quite small (20 parts per billion) but why it’s there at all poses the question – how?

PH3 has only recently been considered as a potential biomarker but only for rocky planets, as it can occur naturally in the gas giants, and indeed does in Jupiter and Saturn. Typically here on Earth, it’s found as a byproduct of life and is found (for example) in penguin poo.

We shouldn’t immediately conclude there are penguins on Venus of course, and to do so would be jumping the gun. PH3 can be produced by a number of natural methods, it’s just that those methods are unlikely on Venus’ hot, hostile landscape. If life is indeed the source, it may be cloud-based microbial life but even the paper itself urges scepticism here:

“… we emphasize that the detection of PH3 is not robust evidence for life, only for anomalous and unexplained chemistry. There are substantial conceptual problems for the idea of life in Venus’s clouds…”

In any case you are likely to be bombarded with news articles suggesting this possibility so bear in mind a few things. Firstly, we’ve had news stories like this before even from NASA where they’ve turned out to be false. Contaminated meteorite samples were once reported as alien bacteria, and who can forget the “arsenic based life” story which turned out to be a flawed conclusion and unrepeatable by other researchers.

It’s quite possible that despite the astronomers best efforts here, a transition from another molecule is being detected at the wrong wavelength through shift or noise in the data. Their methods appear fairly robust but it remains to be seen whether it can be repeated by other researchers or is a “double false-positive”. The absorption signature may even stem from Earth – remember the time a mysterious deep space radio signal ended up being an astronomer microwaving noodles in the next room?

The next step is trying to detect PH3 absorption from other telescopes, preferably ones in space. Only after the finding is confirmed do we then form a crack team of steampunk robots and drones to go and give Venus a closer whiff. Like all space fans though, any further exploration of Venus is welcome – life or not. Venus may tell us more about our future here on Earth.

Dylan O’Donnell 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.

Astrophotography – Opening the Universe

More info here TBA~!

📷 Astrophotography – The Early Days

Humans have produced star maps, charts, drawings and other records of the unchanging night sky above us going back to ancient times. However,  even the most talented artists were limited to what could be seen with their eyes. Early pioneers of using the telescope for astronomy quickly discovered they needed to record and share their…

⊚ The Changing Rings of Saturn

Saturn takes 29 years to orbit the Sun. The view we see of it rings changes during this time for the same reason we have seasons. Like the Earth, Saturn is on a tilt.  Image of Saturn’s changing rings by Kevin Parker When you take your telescope out to view Saturn this winter, you might…

⚫️ First Image of Our Super Massive Black Hole

Image of the super massive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way released by a global research team EHT Collaboration 12th May 2022.  Our home galaxy, The Milky Way, has long thought to contain a super massive black hole. This is something observed not just in the Milky Way, but in many other…

How many stars can I see in the night sky?

How many stars can you count? Have you ever been under a completely dark night sky, on a night with no Moon light?  There’s nothing quite like that carpet of stars that stretches from horizon to horizon with the cloudy Milky Way running through the middle. But just how many stars can you see at…

Electronically Assisted Astronomy (EAA) – An Intro

Q: Can I view what I see through my telescope on a tablet or PC screen? A: Yes. There’s a number of ways to do this. Let’s explain how. This is one of the most asked questions we encounter! The process of attaching a digital camera to a telescope instead of an eyepiece and then…

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2022

For International Women’s Day 2022 we’re celebrating the journeys and skills of a wide range of Astronomers Mary Toki I stumbled across Trevor Jones (Astro backyard) deep space pictures a few years back. I was completely mesmerised by his images and could not believe this was taken by somebody from their backyard! I thought I’d…

Intro to Microscope types

Microscopes: Discovering the hidden world In much the same way telescopes helped us expand our knowledge of the universe by letting us see things that are beyond our view due to their vast distances, the close relative of the telescope – the microscope – has had even more impact on our lives by revealing the…

Milky Way Season. The perfect time for Star Tracker Mounts

Did you know that you can use your current DSLR for taking spectacular astrophotos without the need to buy a telescope? And what’s more, we’re coming into the perfect time of the year to do just that! Image by Cory Keating – Nikon D5100 and Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer mount Even basic DSLR cameras and lenses…

BINTEL JWST Giveaway Competition

BINTEL doesn’t sell Chocolates but that doesn’t stop us from having a Golden Ticket Giveaway! To celebrate the successful launch and deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), over the coming weeks we’ll be including one of 18, 3D Printed miniatures of the JWST’s segmented main mirror in randomly selected online and phone orders…

Shopping cart
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping
0