Life In Venus:

Researchers have found gas in the atmosphere of Venus, the existence of which they cannot explain. A rare, poisonous gas is causing excitement for planetary researchers around the world.

It is called monophosphane, its molecules consist of one atom of phosphorus and three atoms of hydrogen.

On earth, it occurs only as a metabolic product of tiny bacteria that live in the excrement of penguins, for example. The substance also exists as a human-made chemical and is used to control pests.

The phosphorus in the compound is extremely reactive, so the molecule quickly disappears.

This is precisely why the observation that a team led by Jane Greaves from Cardiff University in Wales is reporting on in the journal "Nature Astronomy" is so exciting.

The all-important question is how it gets there. So far, no chemical or geological mechanism is known in which the connection on the planet would arise again and again.

In theory, this could open up a fascinating possibility: microorganisms could exist 50 to 70 kilometres above the surface of Venus and produce the substance.

But to be clear: the researchers expressly do not claim that in their current paper. The discovery is by no means a direct reference to life on Venus - "but only for anomalous and inexplicable chemistry," as the research puts it.

Researchers still speak of a 'shock':

According to Greaves, the measurements were actually intended to achieve the opposite of what is now being discussed: "I thought we could just rule out extreme scenarios, such as the clouds being full of organisms. When we first saw the evidence got on phosphine in the spectrum of Venus, it was a shock! "

According to the measurements, the monophosphane in the Venusian atmosphere only occurs in very small quantities: around 20 molecules of it are mixed with a billion molecules of others.

On the other hand, the total is still so large that someone should have a good explanation for the constant re-connection.

However, Greaves and colleagues do not have this explanation, as they freely admit. Sunlight, lightning, volcanoes and meteorites were definitely eliminated, they report.

Monophosphane has also been detected in the past on the large gas planets of the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn.

In these cases, however, it is clear that no living beings are responsible - but the huge amounts of energy that are available for chemical reactions inside the celestial bodies.

This is not the case on Venus, so this mechanism is also ruled out. It is, of course, possible that the team simply measured itself. Errors could also have occurred in the preparation of the data.

The fact that the group claims to have found something with two different telescopes at two different points in time is a reliable indication that the observation is actually real.

In addition, balloons exposed by Soviet probes had detected phosphorus in the Venusian atmosphere in the 1980s - but without directly inferring monophosphane.

Massive greenhouse effect on the ground, better conditions in the atmosphere:

However, some facts about Venus are certain: The surface temperature is around 500 degrees, some metals such as zinc or tin would have already melted.

The pressure reaches almost 100 bar, i.e. 100 kilograms per square centimetre. This value is found in the Earth's oceans at a depth of 1000 meters.

A dense atmosphere mostly made up of carbon dioxide, is responsible for the truly infernal environment.

The only successful landings were made by research robots in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. And none of the devices withstood the adverse conditions on the planet's surface for even two hours.

Venus wasn't always this murderous. Around four billion years ago, it should have developed analogously to the young earth.

But gradually an inexorable greenhouse effect struck and made the surface of the planet the hellish place it is today.

Parts of the atmosphere, on the other hand, are still considered to be comparatively friendly to life. The temperature and pressure conditions are comparable with the earth's surface.

At the same time, dangerous radiation emanating from the sun is effectively shielded. For decades some experts have speculated whether simple organisms could therefore be found there.

Because there is life high in the earth's atmosphere. Bacteria can be detected up to the stratosphere using balloons or research aircraft.

The vast majority of experts assume that these were originally kicked up from the earth's surface.

Because the microbes are so resilient, however, they can survive far from their actual home, in the cold, extremely low air pressure and hard UV light.

A small minority of researchers even postulates a galactic origin of the tiny ones.

Clouds of concentrated acid - what is supposed to survive there?

So would it really be possible that life high above Venus has also existed for many millions, possibly billions of years?

It is clear that the atmosphere would also confront possible microorganisms with harsh conditions.

Water would disappear as quickly as possible, but above all the clouds of concentrated sulfuric acid would at least be far too uncomfortable for all the life that we know here.

Maybe it's different on Venus. Perhaps there are tiny organisms there that don't mind all the adversities.

Corresponding theoretical concepts exist, according to which the microbes would even move back and forth between different layers of the atmosphere.

Discussions about research missions to Venus, as discussed in Germany by the head of the space company OHB, Marco Fuchs, will pick up speed again with the current discovery.

But it will be many years before such a probe is conceived, financed, built and sent on its way. This can then be measured on-site, preferably again with balloons, as the Soviets once did.

In the meantime, we will have to live with the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what the current discovery of monophosphate actually means


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