Tuesday 15 September 2020

Life on Venus

Writer's block/other irons in the fire, and we'll go with this instead: the news possible biosignatures have been detected in the atmosphere of Venus. Play it, Sam.

She's got it. Yeah baby, she's got it. Well, we still cannot be certain. More observations are required but the fact this is based on two observations at different times by two different telescopes strengthens the odds considerably. Very exciting. If confirmed, the chances of other forms of life clinging on or thriving on other bodies in the solar system increases, and if it can be found to have an origin independent of life here on Earth the likelihood of (at least microbial) life being common in the universe also goes up.

In the grand scheme of things, does this change anything about our perception of ourselves? Probably not.

NB The most recent episode of The Sky at Night is especially comprehensive on the chemistry of possible Venusian life. It comes highly recommended


Blissex said...

This is just public relations:

* There is no reason to assume that life on other planets has a similar chemical basis as that on this planet.

* The reason why any news of similar chemistry are given huge prominence is probably that the space agencies think that taxpayers are only interested in life similar to their own, so they can relate, nothing *too* alien. The dream of every space agency is to find some small Earth-like animal with fur and big eyes that looks very cute, but similar chemistry will do in the meantime.

I personally think that finding some form of life that has quite a different chemistry would be fascinating (there are some examples on this planet too), but the space agencies have a stereotypical view of what would get Joe and Jane Sixpack really soppy about space missions.

Phil said...

You seem to be suggesting this is a conspiracy.

It is quite likely any life found elsewhere in the solar system is related to earth life thanks to the regular exchange of material between the planets and moons. Furthermore while there are lively debates in astrobiology circles about the character of extra terrestrial life, the fact carbon is versatile and water is a perfect solvent edges up the likelihood of life utilising processes involving the two. Venus, as I'm sure you know, has plenty of carbon and as recently as 700 million years ago had water oceans of its own. Therefore phosphine producing bacteria are entirely possible.

Blissex said...

Lryt's not exxxxxagggggerate with seeing a conspiracy theory everywhere: what is common to conspiracies and public relations and marketing is just an element of manipulation through deceptions or misleading half-truths, but that does not make all PR or marketing activities into conspiracies,

As to the water-carbon story, while carbon is abundant and amazingly flexible, water is only liquid in a narrow range of temperatures, pressures, etc., and this limits severely its usefulness. To the point that even on our planet there are exceptions to it (few, and most of our planet's *surface* has the narrow conditions for water-carbon chemistry to work (and BTW I think it should be called more widely water-salt-carbon).

The reason why focusing on water-carbon chemistry for PR reasons is bad is that as a rule, except for serendipity and a very accepting mind, we only find what we are looking for,

A beautiful example of this is the concept of "spin" in particle physics: I was enlightened when I read an eminent physicist point out that "if you are trying to measure/find spin, you will get spin-like measurements/answers".

Anonymous said...

I am with Blissex here, we have trod this path before, remember that microbe found on mars? No me neither!

What Blissex describes is indeed not a conspiracy but a PR campaign. The fact that Phil immediately leaps to conspiracy theory just shows how far down the rabbit hole the centre left have gone.

Remember kids, its the centre left that are the immediate enemy we face!