This is one of the most unexpected scientific discoveries of the year. To their surprise, British scientists revealed last week They found strong evidence That phosphine – a toxic, rancid gas produced by microorganisms – is present in Venus’ burning, acid-dampened atmosphere.
By rights, it simply should not be. “All the geological and photochemical pathways we thought of were too ineffective to produce the phosphine we saw,” said Jane Greaves, an astronomer at Cardiff University. That result leaves scientists with bizarre expectations – the microbial activity of the main source of phosphine on Earth – searing, may occur in acid clouds Friday.
The news that there may be bugs in Venus should come as no surprise in the front-page headlines. It also adds a bizarre new planetary center for scientists hunting for alien life on nearby planets – a search now leading to increasingly strange and unexpected parts of the solar system, from Jupiter’s frozen moons. Titan’s methane-filled lakes, Saturn’s largest moon.
Although astronomers have not yet discovered alien lifestyles, most are optimistic that one day they will succeed, yet their journey would have taken them through some intriguing ups and downs. For example, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most astronomers believed that one day life would be found in the solar system.
Both worlds are particularly promising: Tuesday And our nearest planetary neighbors, Venus. Telescopes showed that Venus was permanently covered by clouds – so it was considered a world covered in steam forests filled with exotic animal life. At the same time, observations Tuesday Some astronomers argue that the signs of canals built on the planet can actually be seen as seasonal changes in plants occur there.
“Then, in the early 1960s, we sent our first astronauts to the planets and discovered that Mars was a frozen, dead desert and Venus was a hell hole,” said Louis Dartnell, an astronomer at the University of Westminster. “The chances of finding alien life in the solar system have taken a toll.”
In the case of Mars, the planet was found to have a painful thin atmosphere and be exposed to ultraviolet radiation, while Venus was revealed to have a dense, warm atmosphere of carbon dioxide lurking beneath dense clouds of sulfuric acid. The place was so hot that lead would melt on its surface. The hopes of astronomers to discover alien life in worlds close to Earth were crushed.
But in recent years, these beliefs have begun to accumulate. On Earth, carbon-based organisms, known as extraterrestrials, live in some unusually hostile places: in accesses; In water with high acidity; Under sea level where temperatures and pressures reach enormous levels; And in panels rolled to the exterior of the International Space Station and exposed to space vacuum for many years.
Life is not as weak as one once thought, it has been discovered. If microbes can sustain harsh conditions on Earth, some may endure harsh environments on Mars or other hostile regions of the solar system.
In addition, U.S. space exploration, which began exploring the remote edges of the solar system, provided data that also raised hopes. Jupiter was found to have moons They have deep underground oceans Titan discovered an atmosphere containing organic chemicals, building blocks of life and lakes of hydrocarbons such as ethane and methane on its surface.
To a large extent, when American astronauts sent new missions to Mars, they revealed ancient creeks and river beds through which water once flowed freely. Probably, Life evolved May be stuck on the red planet and still in underground pockets.
“It’s a double whammy,” Dortnell said. “Planetary science has expanded and discovered new potential homes for life, while the biological sciences have shown that organisms can survive in more harsh environments than we previously thought. It has renewed the hope that astronomers like me have had the opportunity to discover life in our solar system in other worlds.”
These forms of life – if they all exist – are certainly not going to be created by intelligent humans or alien forest dwellers capable of building canals, scientists insist. Most people expect them to come in the form of very simple creatures. Nevertheless their discovery will have enormous consequences.
At present, human beings know only one world that supports life: ours. It’s a rare bloke, and only once in our galaxy history has life formed – here on Earth. On the other hand, the opposite may be true. Life in the universe can be general and pervasive. If astronomers find that life appears to be independent of the second in our own solar system, it would suggest that it is not uncommon and may have appeared on billions of planets in our galaxy.
But what are the most promising places to find life in our own solar system? Where should we pay for our search for aliens? Venus has presented herself as the most unexpected new candidate for the trial. But where else should we look?
Astronomers point to several promising locations, each very different from the others – although the first location is straightforward: Mars. It was like Earth billions of years ago, and life may have appeared there just as it appeared on our planet at this time. It may persist in underground deposits.
It is the easiest planet to reach, and will soon be visited by the navy, which also includes the diligence of the American robot rover. It is scheduled to land on Mars next year Will begin collecting rocks back to Earth in the next decade. These samples will be studied by scientists for fossil signals, which will show if life once evolved on the red planet.
“With diligence on the way to Mars, the opportunity to collect samples to return to Earth is becoming very exciting not only because we have access to all the analytical capabilities we want, but also because of the long-term benefits,” said Open University astronomer Suzanne Schwenzer. “The Apollo models from the moon continue to be a rich resource for research, and they enable us to discover new things decades after they first appeared in new laboratories.
In contrast, one of the major moons is Europa’s frozen world Thursday, Offers very different opportunities to present the signs of life. Europa, completely covered in snow, is the most delicate body in the solar system. It has no hills or ridges, only ridges a few hundred meters high that provide distortions on its burnt surface. But beneath Europa’s glassy landscape, there is an ocean of salt water, space exploration has found. “When you look for alien life, you look for water. Europa has got its oceans, which makes it a very promising destination to visit, ”said Dartnell.
By 2024, the United States is scheduled to launch its Europa Clipper, which will blow over the icy moon by 2030. This can be followed by a separate lander task, which will look for signs of biological activity from materials that may have bubbled from Europa. Underground sea. However, this will not be an easy task – the intense radiation field of nearby Jupiter causes particular problems, as emphasized by astronomer Lee Fletcher of the University of Leicester.
“The organic chemicals and other compounds washed off the surface of Europa are constantly bombarded with radiation, damaging any of the primitive organisms that exist on it. It will not survive long and will be difficult for any spacecraft trying to figure out what is going on in Europa.”
In contrast, Enceladus, a small moon Saturn, According to some astronomers, provides an easy and reliable goal. U.S. Cassini space exploration, it actually carries water geysers – filled with salt and organic matter – from an underground ocean into space. If there are life forms, take them easy.
Professor Charles Goggle, an astronomer at the University of Edinburgh, said: “This is a very promising place to find life in the solar system. “There may be water and creatures on Mars, but these are deep underground. But in Enceladus they go out into space. All we have to do is wipe them out.”
No trips to Enceladus have been planned yet, but scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California are developing plans – yet it is acknowledged that a trip will be a long one. “It has been decades since the beginning of the mission to bring samples back to Earth,” Gogol said.
“However, it is worth the wait even if there is no evidence of biological activity in Enceladus. Liquid water and organic matter are the two main ingredients of life and they are abundant there. However, if we find that life did not develop there despite the presence of water and creatures, it suggests that setting up the movement must have been a very difficult task. ”
Saturn has another moon that also offers life-sustaining hope – Titan. It soaks up moisture, not in water, but with liquid hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane. “There are lakes on Titan that, even if it is very cold, have the potential to lead to the evolution of hydrocarbon chemical life forms,” says Dartnell. “This is a fascinating opportunity.”
It leaves Venus. In fact, most astronomers dismiss the possibility of life growing there – despite the discovery of phosphine in its atmosphere. Those gases are formed by some geochemical processes currently unknown to science. “I wonder if there are any life forms on Venus. This is a very hostile place, “said Gokal. “Anyway, there are plenty of, very promising places to see in the solar system.”