No Phosphine on Venus

Some time previouslyI wrote a blog post suggesting the excitement over the announcement that phosphine had been discovered in the atmosphere of Venus (https://ianmillerblog.wordpress.com/2020/09/23/phosphine-on-venus/) I outlined a number of reasons why I found it difficult to believe it. Well, now we find in a paper submitted to Astronomy and Astrophysics (https://arxiv.org/pdf/2010.09761.pdf) we find the conclusion that the 12th-order polynomial fit to the spectral passband utilised in the published study leads to spurious results. The authors concluded the published 267-GHz ALMA data provide no statistical evidence for phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus.

It will be interesting to see if this denial gets the same press coverage as “There’s maybe life on Venus” did. Anyway, you heard it here, and more to the point, I hope I have showed why it is important when very unexpected results come out that they are carefully examined.

5 thoughts on “No Phosphine on Venus

  1. Thérèse, a woman in Paris Observatory, shot down the phosphine:
    Researchers at Harvard, the Paris Observatory, and MIT, among other institutions, have found that Venus’s atmosphere may not contain phosphine gas, a possible indicator of life, contradicting the results of a study published last month.

    The original study was published in the journal Nature Astronomy on Sept. 14. At the time, researchers — including scientists from Harvard and MIT — reported the presence of phosphine gas in Venus’s atmosphere. The study received national media attention for its conclusion that the phosphine gas could indicate the presence of life on Earth’s neighboring planet.

    Following the study’s publication, however, multiple research teams reanalyzed the data and concluded that the phosphine levels on Venus are lower than originally reported.

    Thérèse A. Encrenaz, an astrophysicist at the Paris Observatory who led one of the subsequent studies, said her research suggests levels of phosphine on Venus are, at most, four times lower than what the original study suggested.

    Encrenaz said her findings cast doubt on the legitimacy of the original research.

    “Honestly, among all the people I have met who are specialists of millimeter spectroscopy, none of them believe the observation,” Encrenaz said.

    Clara Sousa-Silva, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who was part of the original study and Encrenaz’s reanalysis efforts, as well as other ongoing studies, said the discrepancies were unsurprising.

    “It’s completely premature to talk about life,” Encrenaz said. “Even if it had been demonstrated that phosphine is present, you could not just jump and say that this is because of life.”

    Sousa-Silva claimed, however, that scientists have yet to find another explanation for phosphine on Venus besides evidence of life.

    “We have no known explanation for phosphine on Venus, other than by analogy with anaerobic life on Earth. We know a Venusian life form could happily make it the same way life on Earth happily makes it as long as it’s anaerobic,” Sousa-Silva said.

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