Claim: Hints of life on Venus: Scientists detect phosphine molecules in high cloud decks


New Member
Hints of Life On Venus - Scientists detect phosphine molecules in high cloud decks

This is my first new post, I'm trying to follow the posting guidelines correctly.
In my opinion the claim that phosphine molecules is indicative of possible alien life is so ridiculous, that it rises to the level of needing debunking. It looked to me like they detected signatures of phosphine molecules at concentrations of around 2 PPB (parts per billion).
The article said:
Some ideas included sunlight, minerals blown upwards from the surface, volcanoes, or lightning, but none of these could make anywhere near enough of it.
With the lack of knowledge that we have about the surface of Venus and the types of chemical reactions that could be in play, to so quickly dismiss these in complete ignorance but yet give preference to an Alien Life hypothesis is unbelievable to me.

Furthermore, if phosphene is a byproduct of a microbial reaction, and it can be detected at 2 PPB, then we should be able to detect the change in sulfuric acid or hydrogen sulfide concentrations that would result from it. They also keep saying "so much phosphene! too much to explain!" But 2 PPB is nothing.

From Wikipedia
"No known source". So why not hypothesize a new abiotic source? Why hypothesize an unknown biological source instead? This type of nonsense is why lay people distrust the scientific community. I guarantee within a few months or years someone will either fail to repeat the observations or come up with a far more plausible abiotic theory. I get so annoyed when the answer to anything knew is always "aliens". I guess this isn't a complete debunk scientifically since I can't prove a negative, but so many of the alternative theories such as lightning and volcanoes are so much more plausible, that I can actually imagine a chemical mechanism for how they can produce phosphine, far more readily than some weird living organism high up in the atmosphere with almost no access to hydrogen.

There's at least a few abiotic methods for producing phosphine on earth. Tell me why this couldn't happen in the atmosphere of Venus instead of by aliens.
Again from Wikipedia
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Amber Robot

Active Member
Although I agree that it is more likely an unknown abiotic source, none of your criticisms seem to actually address their arguments quantifiably. If you “can actually imagine a chemical mechanism for how they can produce phosphine” then you should write a paper showing how your mechanism accounts for the concentration observed. I haven’t fully read their paper yet but my understanding is that they considered abiotic sources but couldn’t account for the observed concentration. They address quantitatively various methods of production (with citations) in their paper. Which calculation of theirs do you take issue with? Having a qualitative objection akin to argument from incredulity won’t cut it in a scientific argument.


Senior Member.
"No known source". So why not hypothesize a new abiotic source? Why hypothesize an unknown biological source instead? This type of nonsense is why lay people distrust the scientific community.

But every professional comment I have heard on this has acknowledged the possibility that there might be other explanations, while also acknowledging that the researchers have addressed the known possible abiotic sources. Even the team leader, Jaane Greaves, said this in a TV interview I saw. So why should this cause anyone to distrust the scientific community, when they seem to be taking exactly the correct fallibilistic approach?

Unless you have evidence to the contrary, both the Greaves group and those examining seem to be doing just what scientific approaches would require.

By chance I was just listening to this excellent podcast on philosophy of science which used the Venus phospine issue as an very good instance of a the way science should address unconceived alternatives.

Edit: I thought I should add a link to the original paper:
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Senior Member.
There are no extraordinary claims in the original scientific report. It is just a media hype.
This here.

The original report emphasizes volcanism as a possible source. It's very hard to pin down how much volcanic activity Venus has, because while it appears to be none right now, it also appears to have been incredibly huge not long ago. Earlier this year there was a report of rising and receding magma domes in the crust - Venus doesn't have tectonic plates and has a thicker crust than Earth, but it has the same mantle activity with nowhere for it to break through. Evidence suggests when an eruption happens it's cataclysmic, the most recent one seems to have resurfaced much of the planet and nothing on the surface is as old as most of Earth's continental crust, meaning its likely happened more than once.

That said, our current beliefs about the planet don't account for the current phosphine levels, but our understanding of volcanoes on Venus is pretty speculative. We don't have a great estimate for how old the surface is, only that it's younger than Earth's continents and the other terrestrial planets, or exactly what happened to renew it.

One of the things happening after this paper is a "prediscovery" search, looking for existing data that also shows phosphine that was missed or ignored (planetary astronomy produces immense data sets and a scientist looking at, say, sulphur reaction chains in the clouds can't chase down every random trace gas signature or they'd never get anywhere), to see if this might be declining, rising, or temporary, all of which would point to geological sources, or if it's steady, which would be the real puzzle.


Senior Member.

So the follow-ups have been coming in. Several other groups have failed to find any phosphine, and going through archival data for pre-discovery detections has come up empty (except for Pioneer-Venus, which tentatively supported phosphine but did not have sufficient data for conclusive results).

Two groups reprocessed the raw data from the original observations, and also did not find phosphine. Both groups identified possible data analysis glitches.

One group suggests an identification error matching a spectral line for sulfur dioxide (abundant in the upper atmosphere of Venus) to phosphine. The original paper *did* address this overlap, this particular line was stronger than it should be relative to other lines from sulfur dioxide, suggesting an additional source (i.e. phosphine) with a line at that frequency. The strong line, however, goes to the other group's reanalysis:

The other suggests a more complicated data processing error, the raw data was unusually noisy and a very high order polynomial was used to filter for noise. The more noise you need to filter, the more complex the math and the greater chance for the processing to introduce artifacts. Using different filtering processes cancelled out the phosphine detection.

And for fun, one of the best sentences I think I've read in a science article:
That's quite the Venn diagram right there.

The short version: This currently appears to be a false alarm caused by poor raw data.
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