Venus, a near-Earth planet with a hell of hot gases, could host a possible sign of life. The recent discovery has thrilled some of the most important figures in private space flight.
In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists announced that they have detected traces of gaseous phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. Gas is normally associated with life on Earth. But at nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, Venus’s surface isn’t exactly hospitable to life in the form we’re used to – and the team can’t explain how the gas got there. Lead author Jane Greaves described the discovery as “very unexpected and very exciting”
For Peter Beck, CEO of private spaceflight company Rocket Lab, the discovery reaffirmed his focus on Venus as a destination. While SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has outlined a plan to build a city on Mars and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos wants to build floating space cities, Beck has instead focused on planning a trip to Venus.
“Research today highlights why we have to go, and soon,” Beck says Reverse.
Private interest in Venus – Breakthrough Initiatives also announced plans to further examine Venus. On Tuesday, the private space science organization, funded by Russian investor Yuri Milner, announced plans to fund a research study on the possibility of life on the planet.
In a statement on the initiative’s website, Milner stressed the importance of exploring the discovery:
“Finding life anywhere beyond the Earth would be really important. And if there is a not insignificant possibility that it is right next to Venus, exploring this possibility is an urgent priority for our civilization. “
Meanwhile, Beck has already talked about his passion for Venus. In August 2020, during a live stream, he declared that he was “madly in love with Venus”, with the intention of hosting a private mission to the planet in 2023. The mission would target air environments about 30 miles from the surface, where conditions are closest to those found on Earth.
“I’ve always had a passion for Venus,” says Beck Reverse.
“It has long been speculated that its atmosphere could potentially support some kind of life, and I have always been anxious to send a probe to find out. More than just the search for life, however, Venus is a good analogue of the Earth to escape. . climate change, so I believe there is a lot we can learn from Venus’ past and apply to the future of Earth. “
Venus has drawn the attention of fans interested in the new emerging space race, a race with a more important role for private companies. A map shared on Reddit last month showed what the planet would look like if its surface were covered with an amount of water similar to Earth’s. The map followed an earlier map that applied the same treatment to Mars. Both planets have been the subject of discussions about terraforming, a human-powered transformation of the atmosphere and surface.
For now, the only Earth visitor near Venus is Akatsuki, a Japanese space probe. He contributed to the study of the planet’s gravitational waves, equatorial jet streams and the physics of its clouds.
While Rocket Lab is one of the key companies in this new space race, Beck’s focus for Venus is the Photon probe. The company’s satellite designs support launches at different altitudes.
“About a year ago, when serious work began on our lunar orbit mission for NASA, we decided to design a Photon spacecraft capable of performing a mission to the moon, but also to Venus,” says Beck. “The development of that spacecraft and mission is now well underway. The first mission to Venus will be private with an atmospheric probe to take a closer look at the potential of life, but it will not be the only mission to Venus.”
Read the abstract of Monday’s paper below:
Measurements of trace gases in planetary atmospheres help us explore chemical conditions other than those on Earth. Our closest neighbor, Venus, has cloud bridges that are temperate but hyperacid. We report here the apparent presence of phosphine gas (PH3) in the atmosphere of Venus, where any phosphorus should be in oxidized forms. The millimeter waveband spectral readings on one line (quality up to ~ 15 σ) from the JCMT and ALMA telescopes have no other plausible identifications. An atmospheric PH3 at ~ 20 ppb is deduced. The presence of PH3 is unexplained after a thorough study of steady-state chemistry and photochemical pathways, with no currently known abiotic production pathways in the atmosphere, clouds, surface and subsurface of Venus, or from lightning, volcanic or meteoritic delivery . PH3 could come from unknown photochemistry or geochemistry or, by analogy with the biological production of PH3 on Earth, from the presence of life. Other PH3 spectral characteristics should be sought, while in situ sampling of clouds and surfaces could examine the sources of this gas.