Astronomers Challenge Recent Findings About Venus. “No Statistically Significant Detection of Phosphine”

This artistic impression depicts Venus. Astronomers at MIT, Cardiff University, and elsewhere may have observed signs of life in the atmosphere of Venus. Credits:Image: ESO (European Space Organization)/M. Kornmesser & NASA/JPL/Caltech

In September, a team of scientists reported finding phosphine in the upper atmosphere of Venus. Phosphine can be a biomarker and is here on Earth. But it’s also present on Jupiter, where it’s produced abiotically. The discovery led to conjecture about what kind of life might survive in Venus’ atmosphere, continually producing the easily-degraded phosphine.

The authors of that study were circumspect about their own results, saying that they hope someone can determine a source for the phosphine, other than life.

Now a new study says that the original phosphine detection is not statistically significant.

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Astronomers Report They’ve Detected the Amino Acid Glycine in the Atmosphere of Venus

The planet Venus, as imaged by the Magellan mission. Credit: NASA/JPL

Does it feel like all eyes are on Venus these days? The discovery of the potential biomarker phosphine in the planet’s upper atmosphere last month garnered a lot of attention, as it should. There’s still some uncertainty around what the phosphine discovery means, though.

Now a team of researchers claims they’ve discovered the amino acid glycine in Venus’ atmosphere.

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Did Pioneer See Phosphine in the Clouds of Venus Decades Ago?

Artist’s rendition of a theoretical balloon probe in Venus Clouds c. T.Balint ESA

The discovery of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere has generated a lot of interest. It has the potential to be a biosignature, though since the discovery, some researchers have thrown cold water on that idea.

But it looks, at least, like the discovery is real, and that one of NASA’s Pioneer spacecraft detected the elusive gas back in 1978. And though it’s not necessarily a biosignature, the authors of a new study think that we need to rethink the chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere.

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A Supernova Exploded Dangerously Close to Earth 2.5 Million Years Ago

Visible, infrared, and X-ray light image of Kepler's supernova remnant (SN 1604) located about 13,000 light-years away. Credit: NASA, ESA, R. Sankrit and W. Blair (Johns Hopkins University).

In its 4.5 billion year history, Earth has had to run the gauntlet. Numerous catastrophes have imperilled the planet, from massive impacts, to volcanic conflagrations, to frigid episodes of snowball Earth. Yet life persists.

Among all of the hazards that threaten a planet, the most potentially calamitous might be a nearby star exploding as a supernova.

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Maybe Volcanoes Could Explain the Phosphine in Venus’ Atmosphere

This artistic impression depicts Venus. Astronomers at MIT, Cardiff University, and elsewhere may have observed signs of life in the atmosphere of Venus. Credits:Image: ESO (European Space Organization)/M. Kornmesser & NASA/JPL/Caltech

The detection of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere was one of those quintessential moments in space science. It was an unexpected discovery, and when combined with our incomplete understanding of planetary science, and our wistful hopefulness around the discovery of life, the result was a potent mix that lit up internet headlines.

As always, some of the headlines were a bit of an over-reach. But that’s the way it goes.

At the heart of it all, there is compelling science. And the same, overarching question that keeps popping up: Are we alone?

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Colliding Neutron Stars Don’t Make Enough Gold to Explain What We See in the Universe

gamma-ray burst from neutron star merger
Artist rendering of colliding neutron stars. Credit: Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science

In the beginning, the universe created three elements: hydrogen, helium, and lithium. There isn’t much you can do with these simple elements, other than to let gravity collapse them into stars, galaxies, and black holes. But stars have the power of alchemy. Within their hearts, they can fuse these elements into new ones. Carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and others, all up to the heavy element of iron. When these first stars exploded, they scattered the new elements across the cosmos, creating planets, new stars, and even us.

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Because of Coronavirus Lockdowns, Europe is Having the Same Drop in Pollution that we Saw in China

Satellite data shows that air pollution over European cities has dropped during coronavirus lockdowns. Image Credit: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019-20), processed by KNMI/ESA

The pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus is creating all kinds of chaos for human society. But for the dear old Earth, and the humans and creatures that breathe its air, it’s a bit of a reprieve. Mirroring what happened in China during lock-down, Europe is now seeing the same drop in air pollution.

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We Know We’re Made of Stardust. But Did it Come From Red Giants?

Artist's impression of a red giant star. If the star is in a binary pair, what happens to its sibling? Credit:NASA/ Walt Feimer

We’ve all heard this one: when you drink a glass of water, that water has already been through a bunch of other people’s digestive tracts. Maybe Attila the Hun’s or Vlad the Impaler’s; maybe even a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s.

Well, the same thing is true of stars and matter. All the matter we see around us here on Earth, even our own bodies, has gone through at least one cycle of stellar birth and death, maybe more. But which type of star?

That’s what a team of researchers at ETH Zurich (Ecole polytechnique federale de Zurich) wanted to know.

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Astronomers See Strontium in the Kilonova Wreckage, Proof that Neutron Star Collisions Manufacture Heavy Elements in the Universe

A team of European researchers, using data from the X-shooter instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, has found signatures of strontium formed in a neutron-star merger. This artist’s impression shows two tiny but very dense neutron stars at the point at which they merge and explode as a kilonova. In the foreground, we see a representation of freshly created strontium. Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser

Astronomers have spotted Strontium in the aftermath of a collision between two neutron stars. This is the first time a heavy element has ever been identified in a kilonova, the explosive aftermath of these types of collisions. The discovery plugs a hole in our understanding of how heavy elements form.

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Traces of One of the Oldest Stars in the Universe Found Inside Another Star

Accroding to new research, the Milky Way may still bear the marks of "ancient impacts". Credit: NASA/Serge Brunier

Despite all we know about the formation and evolution of the Universe, the very early days are still kind of mysterious. With our knowledge of physics we can shed some light on the nature of the earliest stars, even though they’re almost certainly long gone.

Now a new discovery is confirming what scientists think they know about the early Universe, by shedding light on a star that’s still shining.

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