Phosphine may not have been discovered in Venus’ atmosphere after all

Shane McGlaun - Jan 31, 2021, 10:10am CST
Phosphine may not have been discovered in Venus’ atmosphere after all

Scientists around the world were excited last year when it was announced that researchers believed they had discovered phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. The reason phosphine is a big deal is because on Earth, it’s produced by living things. This led some to believe the phosphine in the atmosphere Venus resulted from some type of potential life on Venus.

However, a new analysis of that initial data has found what could be a significant mistake in the past research. The analysis shows that the researchers who first reported phosphine detection may have mistakingly picked up sulfur dioxide instead. According to the authors of the new research paper, the original paper claimed that 20 parts per billion of phosphine was detected in the atmosphere of Venus.

The original researchers reassessed some of their initial findings and said that the phosphine signal remained but at a much lower concentration of one parts per billion. Even if the concentration was one parts per billion, the discovery was still significant. Phosphine wouldn’t last long in the Venusian atmosphere under any conditions unless it was being constantly replaced.

The new team of researchers who looked at the data believes that the one part per billion finding was a measurement error. They think the original scientists were detecting sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide is the third most common chemical compound in the Venusian atmosphere and isn’t considered an indication of life.

The new paper suggests that the error surfaced when the initial scientists were using to estimate the amount of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere of Venus. They believe the telescope could have missed as much as 90 to 95 percent of the sulfur dioxide present. That would increase the chance that the signal attributed to phosphine is being caused by sulfur dioxide.


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