'Grand claims' of life on Venus lack evidence, skeptics say

Feb 19, 2020
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The problem remains. If there are anaerobic bacteria in the clouds above Venus those microbes had to evolve from primitive molecules. Unlikely in the clouds, then elsewhere. Panspermia? Extraterrestrial life from somewhere to the clouds of Venus? The origin is simply moved from Venus to some other planet and the question is begged.
 
Jul 27, 2020
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The data do not even pass the most rudimentary requirement : Confirmation by other scientists.

Quoting from the article:

"But did the research team really see phosphine? The observations contain a good amount of noise, which might simply be mimicking a phosphine signal, suggested Carpenter.

Michael Way, a physical scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, agreed.

"More lines are needed to verify that it is this particular molecule," Way told Live Science in an email. "As this point it's not 100% clear exactly what they have measured."

end quote.


The presence of phosphine must be confirmed before it can be accepted as fact - the primary standard of the scientific method.

Apparently the team who is reporting the phosphine finding wrote a 100 page paper regarding all the possible abiotic sources for the compound. This appears to be a back-door means of verifying their observation. One wonders if they spent as much time analyzing the data from which they made this phosphine determination.


Noting again from the article:

"In particular, Way pointed out that there is a signature associated with sulfur dioxide, SO2, at nearly the same frequency of light. Sulfur dioxide is the third most abundant gas in Venus' atmosphere, so its presence might account for the phosphine finding, David Catling, an astrobiologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, told Live Science in an email."

end quote

When there is "a good amount of noise" (spectral data in this case), one must be very careful with interpretations. It is likely that the smart money is betting on SO2.
 
Last edited:
Jul 12, 2020
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The data do not even pass the most rudimentary requirement : Confirmation by other scientists.

Quoting from the article:

"But did the research team really see phosphine? The observations contain a good amount of noise, which might simply be mimicking a phosphine signal, suggested Carpenter.

Michael Way, a physical scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, agreed.

"More lines are needed to verify that it is this particular molecule," Way told Live Science in an email. "As this point it's not 100% clear exactly what they have measured."

.
.


"In particular, Way pointed out that there is a signature associated with sulfur dioxide, SO2, at nearly the same frequency of light. Sulfur dioxide is the third most abundant gas in Venus' atmosphere, so its presence might account for the phosphine finding, David Catling, an astrobiologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, told Live Science in an email."

end quote

When there is "a good amount of noise" (spectral data in this case), one must be very careful with interpretations. It is likely that the smart money is betting on SO2.
I'd like to know what spectra Way is comparing. SO₂ and phosphine look radically different to me.
vpl. astro. washington. edu/spectra/so2pnnlimagesmicrons.htm
vpl. astro. washington. edu/spectra/ph3pnnlimagesmicrons.htm
 
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Jul 27, 2020
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I'd like to know what spectra Way is comparing. SO₂ and phosphine look radically different to me.
This is not typical spectra. From a blog off Science Magazine (1):

"The spectral band that they’re using is a rotational transition in the millimeter wave range, and the two radio telescope facilities that were used to collection data were the James Clerk Maxwell telescope on Mauna Kea and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, both excellent instruments and among the best that radio astronomy has to offer. There is a nearby absorption band from sulfur dioxide, however, but the authors calculate that it could only be responsible for the data if it were twice as hot as the measured temperatures in the upper cloud decks. But that does leave an outside chance that there is something messed-up with our knowledge of sulfur dioxide in the Venusian atmosphere that led to a false call for phosphine."

There are going to be a lot of nay-sayers out there on the bio-formation of phosphine on Venus. More cons than pros I would guess. And more than a few will suggest that there is much more than "an outside chance that there is something messed-up with our knowledge of sulfur dioxide in the Venusian atmosphere." It is likely a very good chance. This is precisely the reason science works best with confirmation from alternate sources, and preferably by alternate methods.

(1) https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2020/09/15/phosphine-life-and-venus
 

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