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Weekend recap: Made in Portugal, electric bikes and the Venusian atmosphere



Chemistry is a fun thing, as is finding extraterrestrial life. They are, in fact, two great things that go well together. The most likely scenario for the detection of life on other worlds is the detection of chemical biosignatures – the presence of chemicals or fluctuations in chemical concentration, or both, which have no other explanation than the metabolic processes of alien life. The problem is that different chemicals can be made through a number of processes, some of which are metabolic pathways in living organisms, but others are not, and to say which ones are far from easy (Mars, for example, has seasonal variations in amount Methane in its atmosphere, but there is no definite evidence at all that microbial life is the cause at this point). Recently, however, researchers found evidence of a chemical compound called phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. Venus is one of the most inhospitable planets ̵

1; the surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead. The surface atmospheric pressure is 90 times that of the Earth’s surface and it is raining sulfuric acid (the Venusian atmosphere is almost pure carbon dioxide, and its greenhouse effects have transformed Venus into the hellish world it is today). But in the upper cloud levels, which permanently obscure the Venusian atmosphere, things are more moderate, and it is possible – only possible – that life has taken hold there with phosphine as a signature. Phosphine is produced almost exclusively by anaerobic microbes on earth. With life hovering over the bleak surface of Venus, definitive evidence is years away, but the presence of phosphine may be a first glimpse of its existence.

– Jack Forster, editor-in-chief




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