Phosphine on Venus Detected Long Time Ago Intrigues Scientists

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If any signs of life really exist on Venus, well, let’s say it’s never too late to confirm such a thing. A NASA discovery from 1978 now sheds light on the possibility of life on Venus.

Digging through archival NASA data can be pretty challenging. For Rakesh Mogul, a biochemist at Cal Poly Pomona in California was a huge success. 

He discovered a hint of phosphine collected by Pioneer 13 – a probe that interacted with Venus back in December 1978. How could such a thing remain unobserved? Also, how significant the “new discovery” could be? Here is what you need to know.

Never-seen Data Examined

The 1978 data is from the LNMS (the Large Probe Neutral Mass Spectrometer). The probe’s instruments descended into Venus’ atmosphere as part of a challenging mission, Pioneer 13. 

Pioneer 13 sent a massive probe (the LNMS) straight into Venus’ clouds. Then, it suspended from a parachute, the probe gathered data and returned to Earth as it plummeted toward its robotic end. The LNMS succeeded in sampling the atmosphere and performed those samples via mass spectrometry, known as a standard lab method, to spot unknown chemicals. 

Back in 1978, when the scientists first examined the LNMS data, they didn’t discuss phosphorus-based compounds such as phosphine, focusing instead on other existing chemicals. 

New Research Emerges

When Mogul and his team re-analyzed the LNMS results from Venus’ middle and lower clouds – a potentially habitable area – they discovered signals that resembled phosphine a lot. They also found a proof for atoms of phosphorus in the atmosphere. 

Mogul detailed: “[…] an indication of chemistries not yet discovered, and/or chemistries potentially favorable for life.” He believes that the new finding will change the scientists’ view of Venus because they previously have seen Venus as a fully oxidizing environment.

NASA, the ESA, the Russian, and the Indian space agencies now have plans for Venus probes that might prove helpful.

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