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Emerging first opportunity for ISRO to test claims of life on Venus - Will India make it?

WE ARE NOT ALONE: Scientists claim they have found proof of life on Venus (not life as such), our nearest neighbour in the solar system. They located phosphine gas in venusian clouds. Phosphine is produced by anaerobic micro organisms, ie proof of existence of life. Incidentally, the Indian Venus mission is scheduled for mid-2023 launch to study atmospheric chemistry, dynamics and compositional variations. This could be the earliest anyone could launch a mission to verify the new claim of life on Venus, if India willing.


NEW DELHI, Sept 16: The ISRO's Venus mission planned long ago and scheduled for mid-2023 launch to study atmospheric chemistry, dynamics and compositional variations, could now be used as the first exploration to test the validity of the new claims of anaerobic life on Earth's twin planet, Venus, made by American scientists early this week. Will India be able to tweak its preset programme to include a search for signs of life on the planet as claimed?

The scientists reported on Monday there are signs of life on Venus, our nearest neighbour in the solar system! They have found phosphine gas in its atmospheric clouds. Phosphine is produced by micro organism or anaerobic life that doesn’t require or use oxygen.

The astronomers reported the finding on Monday in Nature Astronomy. “This is an astonishing and ‘out of the blue’ finding,” said Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the authors of the papers published.

A suspended phosphine molecule is phosphorus atom with 3 hydrogen atoms attached and it is highly poisonous. On earth anaerobic micro organisms produce phosphine.

Phosphine is found in our intestines and in some deep sea worms, ie proof of existence of biological environments associated with anaerobic organisms. Sewage plants and swamps are also examples. The scientists found a lot of phosphine in Venusian gas, ranging from 5 to 20 parts per billion.

Often called Earth's twin, Venus, similar to earth in structure, has a temperature of 471 deg C. Its gaseous layer is composed of sulphuric acid to the extent of 90%. The dense atmosphere gives rise to greenhouse effect, producing this temperature.

'Venus is a Russian planet'

A day after the news came through Nature Astronomy, Russia announced an intention to independently explore Venus, declaring, "We believe that Venus is a Russian planet," according to TASS news agency. The Russians claim their right flows from the fact that the first missions to explore Venus were carried out by the Soviet Union.

Scientists have always been looking outward away from sun for signs of life because inwards, Venus is roasting hot. Now not that the scientists have seen any microbes by chance but with telescopes they have just detected phosphine. They hypothesise that something live is behind the existence of phosphine.

Some scientists question this hypothesis of finding life on Venus saying some geological processes could be the reason for the presence of phosphine gas. It can be produced by chemical reactions or volcanos, not involving life forms.

NASA which has been ignoring Venus for so long, responded to the finding on Twitter, saying, “ It’s time to prioritize Venus.”

Venusian features make research on life on Venus pretty difficult. Its atmospheric pressure alone is a hundred times higher than that of earth. And its surface is like a blast furnace. We assert that life cannot exist in such an environment, because our only frame of reference is earth-based! We can't have it otherwise because it is imperative that comprehension requires a frame of refernce and we can have only one. “When looking for life elsewhere, it’s so hard to not be Earth-centric,” Dr. Sousa-Silva of Harvard said. “Because we only have that one data point.”

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