Search For Life Signs On Venus Goes In Vain; What It Means?

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Search For Life Signs On Venus Goes In Vain; What It Means?
Photo Credit: JAXA

Scientists have been studying Venus, the second closest planet to the Sun, for a long time. Astronomers have been trying to hunt signs of life on Venus but might have been hit with bad news. A telescope, fitted on an aircraft failed to find signs of a compound related to biological activity while observing Venus’ atmosphere.

 

In 2020, scientists caused a stir in the field of astronomy when they discovered a potential signal indicating the presence of phosphine in Venus’ clouds. The reason is phosphine’s ability to be a biomarker or an indicator of potential life.

Hunting For Signs Of Potential Life

SOFIA is a far infrared telescope fitted on a 747 aircraft to observe objects that ground-based telescopes can’t. The telescope carried out follow-up observations of the planet to confirm or refute phosphine’s discovery.

Well, SOFIA couldn’t find any signs of phosphine during its three flights in November last year, as per a Universities Space Research Association (USRA) statement.

"Phosphine is a relatively simple chemical compound — it's just a phosphorus atom with three hydrogens — so you would think that would be fairly easy to produce. But on Venus, it's not obvious how it could be made," said Martin Cordiner, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

SOFIA’s Last Dance Goes In Vain

Getting SOFIA to inspect Venus had its own set of hurdles, as per the USRA team. The planet was visible for around 30 minutes after sunset, and the aircraft was required to be at the right place at the right time.

"You don't want sunlight accidentally coming in and shining on your sensitive telescope instruments," Cordiner explained. "The sun is the last thing you want in the sky when you're doing these kinds of sensitive observations."

Backing the international search for phosphine in Venus was one of SOFIA’s last science efforts. The telescope bid adieu to astronomy in September 2022.

NASA’s Venus Mission

Venus could soon witness a mission from NASA, ESA, and New Zealand spaceflight company Rocket Lab. While the planet is inhospitable, the space agency is planning to explore it by deploying a robotic balloon called “aerobot” in its atmosphere.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) recently completed two test flights of an aerobot prototype. Sending a spacecraft to Venus would be tricky, as the planet has extremely high pressure, corrosive gases, and intense heat that might render the mission useless before it even begins. However, a few miles above the inhospitable zone is an area where an aerobot might be able to float safely.

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