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

Money4Nothing

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
 
Last edited:

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.
 

Inti

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.
Source: https://youtu.be/SfP46ooHWKA?t=132
[/QUOTE]

Edit: I thought I should add a link to the original paper:
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-1174-4
 
Last edited:

Hevach

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.
 

Hevach

Senior Member.
https://api.nationalgeographic.com/...-have-much-phosphine-dampening-hopes-for-life

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.
 
Last edited:

NorCal Dave

New Member
Just the musings of a non-scientist, but is this more a sign of our current culture? A world of "influencers". Everybody has to be on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumbler, ok, maybe not Tumbler. You have to Google your business, have it listed on Alexa and check your Yelp reviews. You always need more followers and subscribers.

You think you found phosphine? You want a good write up? More money for more research? You better get the hype going.
The team first used the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii to detect the phosphine, and were then awarded time to follow up their discovery with 45 telescopes of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.
Right from beginning, finding phosphine on the big telescope leads to being "awarded" time on the really big telescope.

After that, how do they proceed? "Hey, we think we found some phosphine. Anybody else seeing this? And if you do, while it's known to be linked to certain micro-organisms, we should first rule out abiotic sources, especially ones that may happen someplace as different as Venus. Again, assuming anyone can replicate the finding in the first place." Zzzzzz. No, they announced that they found it, speculated on why, advance alien life as distinct possibility and, by listing abiotic sources, but showing that they can't account for amount found, kinda give weight to the alien idea. That's something that's goin to be picked up in the press.

It's like Scientific Instagramming. Maybe? We all want hype. Not "Metabunkers", but in general.

I'm not condemning or excusing. Scientists are people and are part of our culture. They want followers too. Fortunately science, unlike the world of influencers, is ultimately self correcting, as appears to be the case above.
 

Hevach

Senior Member.
If anything the influencer era has actually calmed it down because scientists can actually participate and actively knock down stories about their work - generally an article in the journals is noticed in a keyword search and a journalist with a high school understanding (if we're lucky) writes it up, pulling answers to any "questions" from scholarly articles rather than obtaining them directly.

A good example was the "cephalopods are panspermia aliens" hype from a couple years ago, the scientists involved were right there on every social media platform to explain that in fact their work was the exact opposite. Similar claims that hit the mainstream media cycle even ten years ago were basically unanswerable for the scientists who never made the outlandish claims they were getting attached to them, something that actually ruined a few careers.
 
Right from beginning, finding phosphine on the big telescope leads to being "awarded" time on the really big telescope.
Observation time is a pretty big battle to win, but there's perfectly valid reasons to prioritize one project over another. For instance, they could have pitched it to the observatory that they're is a potential seasonality to the observation.
 

Amber Robot

Active Member
Right from beginning, finding phosphine on the big telescope leads to being "awarded" time on the really big telescope.

yes. A promising detection on one telescope is quite often a good justification for award for follow up on another telescope. Nothing out of place there. However, it appears that the original detection was very likely a misidentification.
 

NorCal Dave

New Member
If anything the influencer era has actually calmed it down because scientists can actually participate and actively knock down stories about their work - generally an article in the journals is noticed in a keyword search and a journalist with a high school understanding (if we're lucky) writes it up, pulling answers to any "questions" from scholarly articles rather than obtaining them directly.
Good point. It cuts both ways. I guess I got caught up in the negative aspect of it.
yes. A promising detection on one telescope is quite often a good justification for award for follow up on another telescope. Nothing out of place there. However, it appears that the original detection was very likely a misidentification.
I'm sure that's true. I guess my takeaway, from the way the quoted article was written, is that, to get more time, one must, understandably, give a good reason. It just seemed like, "hey, we may have found phosphine, but not sure" wasn't going to cut it. "Hey we found phosphine, and that might mean alien life! Can we get on the big 'scope?" is the way it seemed to come across. Again, just from reading the original article as posted.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
but it took CNN only six sentences to get to ALIENS:
They don't write "aliens", they write "life", and ever since the news from Mars, we know that that's going to mean possibly single-cell organisms at best.

"Aliens" is your own interpretation. CNN simply talks about whether Titan may be habitable.
 
Last edited:

Mendel

Senior Member.
"Hey we found phosphine, and that might mean alien life! Can we get on the big 'scope?" is the way it seemed to come across.
The people who decide these telescope allocations are astrophysicists. They'd know there aren't any "aliens" there. They'd understand, "hey, we found phosphine, and that might mean organic chemistry!" It's big news.

The original article quoted in post #1 talks about "microbes".
 
They get to "life" that fast because it isn't the first time it has come up. Titan as potentially populated by microorganisms has been conceptualized for a while now. Modeling biochemistry that uses hydrocarbons as a solvent instead of water produces observable atmospheric markers and those markers have already been detected in Cassini data.
 

Hevach

Senior Member.
The people who decide these telescope allocations are astrophysicists.
Also: It wasn't the original team who got time on the better telescopes. The original team hasn't gotten follow up chances yet, only their original set of observations. The follow ups have been from other teams.

Considering how quickly some of the follow ups followed the publication, they probably already had the time booked and noting they had an angle on Venus took time out of their own projects to take a quick set of observations.
 

Amber Robot

Active Member
I don’t think there have been follow up observations since that paper. One team looked at archival data and another reprocessed the same data and determined a non-detection.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
Nature reports that the original scientists have repeated their analysis and found an error:
Article:
The reanalysis, based on radio-telescope observations at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, concludes that average phosphine levels across Venus are about one part per billion — approximately one-seventh of the earlier estimate. Unlike in their original report, the scientists now describe their discovery of phosphine on Venus as tentative

This is it:
Article:
To summarise: we tentatively recover PH3 in Venus’ atmosphere with ALMA (~5σ confidence). Localised abundance appears to peak at ~5 parts-per-billion, with suggestions of spatial variation. Advanced data-products suggest a planet-averaged PH3 abundance ~1 ppb, ~7 times lower than from the earlier ALMA processing.

How confident is that?
Article:
In the social sciences, a result may be considered "significant" if its confidence level is of the order of a two-sigma effect (95%), while in particle physics, there is a convention of a five-sigma effect (99.99994% confidence) being required to qualify as a discovery.

So the phosphine is definitely there. The question is, which sources can account for that quantity? And why does the analysis show regions with more PH3?
One group suggests an identification error matching a spectral line for sulfur dioxide (abundant in the upper atmosphere of Venus) to phosphine.
From the re-analysis paper:
[https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/2011/2011.08176.pdf]
SO2 contamination was already considered in detail by G2020 (see Methods and Figure 4). Because the two transitions are separated by 1.3 km/s but both lines are expected to be a few 2 km/s wide, they will not appear as two separate minima at any spectral resolution. The limit in identification here is the precision of the centroid of the line minimum (calculated in Table 1 of G2020). The intrinsic spectral resolutions of the datasets are 0.034 km/s (JCMT) and 0.069 km/s (ALMA), and the centroids are measured to precision as good as 0.3 km/s. The spectra were shown in G2020 with larger velocity-bins for clarity, but this does not affect the precision. [..] We describe below our conclusion that the feature identified as PH3 can not be explained as SO2, because of the extreme-outlier SO2-abundance this would require, and the incompatibility of the observed line width.
[/article]
As an analogy, imagine if you had two partially overlapping dartboards and a fuzzy picture of darts sticking in the board, and you're trying to figure out which board the darts were thrown at. Obviously, for each single dart, you won't be able to decide that, but if you consider which bullseye the darts are centered on, you can tell, if your picture shows enough detail. If you see the darts centered on the PH3 target, you'll conclude that this is unlikely to happen by chance ("extreme outlier") if someone throws darts at SO2.

Then the idea is, maybe somebody threw very many darts at the SO2 board, and you're looking at the PH3 board and seeing lots of darts and then wrongfully conclude that that's what they aimed at. But for that to work, you'd have to have very many darts thrown at SO3:
Article:
V2020 consider that the JCMT feature can be fully reproduced by a mesospheric abundance of ~100 ppb of SO2, reading such a value off the altitudinal molecular-abundances plot shown as Extended Data Figure 9 in G2020.

To address this point, we re-examined the JCMT data. Figure (f2) shows the spectrum obtained by G2020 (in the mid-range |v| = 5 km/s reduction), overlaid with a linearly-scaled version of our radiative transfer model of the proposed SO2 line, after baseline-subtracting this model in the same way performed as on the data. The required SO2 abundance to reproduce the whole feature would in fact need to be ~150 ppb, not 100 ppb.

This value of ~150 ppb would be an extreme outlier in millimetre-waveband monitoring observations. (We note some higher literature abundances derived from UV/IR observations; see discussion of data tracing the cloud top1 and over time3 .). Comparing to a large compilation of millimetre-derived SO2 abundances4 , a value of 150 ppb would be a > +6σ outlier – in fact, the highest value recorded over several years was only 76 ppb, half this value. SO2 would also need to be sustained at this very high level over the week of the observations, while it is normally seen to vary on timescales of hours to days.


When I saw the phrase “twelfth order polynomial” I knew it was over.
The re-analysis covers this:
Article:
Extended Data Figure 4b in G2020 showed that new features were not produced in the ALMA spectra by polynomial subtraction (however, there were issues with the bandpass calibration, see Section 2 below). Specifically, in G2020 we applied the same reduction procedures to regions of the passband offset by 400 spectral channels either side of the phosphine’s expected location. This produced narrow artefacts spanning only ~2 channels, much less broad than the real line, and comprising only ~18% of the real line’s line-integrated signal. Narrow artefacts of this sort are not physically representative of spectral lines from Venus’ clouds.

In their point S2, V2020 applied a polynomial fit to their reduction of the ALMA data. They included all the antenna baselines, whereas G2020 omitted baselines that were substantially noisier, of <33m. Figure FS1 of V2020 demonstrates fitting a 12th -order polynomial baseline, with the residual creating an artifical “line” feature.

This procedure used by V2020 is not correct in context. G2020 noted the very strong ripple when all the ALMA antenna-baselines were included, and page 3 of the SI describes the decisions made in excluding short baselines (balancing random noise and systematic ripple). When V2020 include all the antenna-baselines, they recover this very strong ripple. It is then inevitable that they can produce a “fake line” by fitting across a section of the passband, ignoring the actual shape of the data.

Further, the correct polynomial order is defined by the number of changes of direction of the spectral baseline within the passband. As this value appears to be 7 in V2020’s Figure FS1 (left), the correct order would be 8. By fitting a 12th order polynomial designed for different data, they have given the polynomial function excess freedom, generating an unstable solution.

Fitting polynomials is not a method we would use when the spectrum is dominated by large systematic ripples. These ripples are produced on the short antenna-baselines, and including these also raises the noise substantially.

In short, the researchers are accusing their critics of using a bad method that creates an erroneous signal from noise, and then using that as evidence against them. They say that they didn't use that method at all; if they use their own methods, they're finding smaller artifacts that can't be mistaken for a signal.

There is another reference to 12th-order polynomials on page 9 that I don't fully understand. It seems to be part of the calibration of the sensor using Jupiter's moon Callisto. The team is hoping to get a better calibration with next year's observations:
Article:
The intent is to re-observe Venus with optimum settings after the re-opening of ALMA in 2021. Such observations can include optimising the selection and use of calibrators; using a small mosaic and total power observations if Venus fills the primary beam; and applying a more recent higher-precision primary beam model, needed to accurately extract faint absorption lines across the planet. In the meantime, the data gathered in March 2019 has been reprocessed to resolve some of the processing issues in the data used in G2020.


The data sets that have turned up in the meantime are apparently quite diverse.
Article:
Temporal variation is now required to reconcile all the available PH3 data. [..] The overall compilation of data could thus be reconciled with a PH3 profile decreasing with altitude, and temporal variations of at least an order of magnitude.

The diversity is such that you'd have to assume that the PH3 concentration changes strongly over time and with altitude for all the detected values to be correct, which feels like a cop-out.

Hopefully, next year's observations can provide more insight here.
 
Last edited:
Thread starter Related Articles Forum Replies Date
Mick West Debunked: Trump's Claim of "1,126,940 votes created out of thin air" in PA Election 2020 2
P Claim: UFO Black Knight Satellite spotted over Philippines UFO Videos and Reports from the US Navy 3
Mick West Explained: Trump's Claim of Suspicious Early Morning Michigan Bump [It's Detroit] Election 2020 1
Mick West Claim: R-Squared Coefficient of Determination as a Election Fraud Signal Election 2020 5
Akton Claim: Ballots in Wayne County were run through the tabulator and counted as many as 4-5 times Election 2020 16
Mick West Trump's Claim that "THE OBSERVERS WERE NOT ALLOWED INTO THE COUNTING ROOMS." Election 2020 6
P Claim: Authorities supressed alleged UFO findings of a reporter of the 1965 Kecksburg crash UFOs, Aliens, Monsters, and the Paranormal 7
Shade sitter Claim: Covid vaccine gives you "Serpent" DNA/marks you 666 Coronavirus COVID-19 9
P Claim: Ronald Reagan warned the world of aliens/alien invasion UFOs, Aliens, Monsters, and the Paranormal 4
P Claim: Man took photo of an alien spacecraft in 2016 UFOs, Aliens, Monsters, and the Paranormal 21
Arugula Claim: Only 6% of COVID deaths are "real" - the rest died due to comorbidities Coronavirus COVID-19 11
P Claim: Finding of potentially chemiluminescent compound in soil proves aliens landed UFOs, Aliens, Monsters, and the Paranormal 11
M Claim: UFO performs sharp maneuver after laser pointer directly hits craft UFOs, Aliens, Monsters, and the Paranormal 20
Critical Thinker Claim: Correlations Between Media Preference and Coronavirus Infection Rates Coronavirus COVID-19 11
L Claim: NASA is doctoring an image [Scanner Dirt] UFOs, Aliens, Monsters, and the Paranormal 7
Z.W. Wolf Claim: Martin Gugino Was Using a "Police Tracker." Conspiracy Theories 42
Rory Claim: A dog in Manchester could sense its owner's return by unknown means UFOs, Aliens, Monsters, and the Paranormal 21
jarlrmai Claim: UFO following jet into landing at JFK on 11/11/19 UFOs, Aliens, Monsters, and the Paranormal 15
Dingo Claim: U.S. Covid-19 Deaths are being Artificially Inflated Coronavirus COVID-19 38
W Claim: The Heart Is Not A Pump Health and Quackery 6
J Another sun path claim Flat Earth 4
J Claim sun paths prove flat earth Flat Earth 41
R Claim: Apollo 15-17 Live TV Feed - Antenna signal would be interrupted from all the violent shaking when Astronauts touch the buggy General Discussion 26
Rory Claim: Spanish flu caused by radio waves Coronavirus COVID-19 3
J [False] Claim that Scale Model of 2017 Eclipse Disproves the Heliocentric Model Flat Earth 29
Rory Claim: UK Coronavirus Bill (HC Bill 122) means "bad things" Coronavirus COVID-19 9
Mick West Claim: China Mobile loses 8.116 Million subscribers because of Coronavirus Coronavirus COVID-19 2
Agent K Claim: Harvey Weinstein has coronavirus Coronavirus COVID-19 9
Mick West Claim: Julian Assange offered pardon to "Lie" for Trump Current Events 20
Jesse3959 FE Claim Debunked: JTolan Epic Gravity Experiment - Flat earther disproves Perspective! (or his instruments.) Flat Earth 0
Wiggles Claim: Distant Objects Being Obscured Is Due To the "Mirror Blocking" Effect of Inferior Mirages Flat Earth 7
Mick West Claim: Section 13.1 on Vaccine Inserts Removed to Hide that Vaccines not Tested to Cause Cancer Conspiracy Theories 7
Rory Claim: footage of Great South Bay Bridge supports flat earth Flat Earth 11
mudr0 Claim: Australia was not visible from the moon for Apollo 11 Broadcasts Conspiracy Theories 7
Z.W. Wolf Claim: Moon Passing The Meridian Disproves Globe Earth Flat Earth 0
Z.W. Wolf Claim: Seeing The Same Stars All Year Disproves Globe Earth Flat Earth 20
Mick West Claim: Fertility Clinics are a new thing (David Icke) Conspiracy Theories 12
Rory Claim: Nasa' in Hebrew means "to deceive" Flat Earth 11
Leifer Claim: magnetic dust on cars proves chemtrail fallout Contrails and Chemtrails 11
Neil Obstat Claim: zooming in on setting sun proves flat earth Flat Earth 23
Marin B Claim: Passenger luggage limited to make room for chemical tanks Contrails and Chemtrails 15
MikeG Claim: DC officials are "flocking" to "Doomsday Camps" Conspiracy Theories 4
StarGazer Convex Earth Claim: Ships Disappear Below The Horizon Due To A Optical Phenomena Flat Earth 3
Nth Claim: 146 Mile Microwave Transmission Proves Flat Earth Flat Earth 26
FlightMuj Apollo 12 photo analysis shows Sun as bulb [claim] Conspiracy Theories 19
inkwell American Airlines Flight 77 Missing from Bureau of Transportation Departure Report 9/11 12
ConfusedHominid Need Debunking (Claim): Metabunk Curve Calculator Does Not Calculate for Angular Size Flat Earth 13
derwoodii Claim Melania Trump has a double, will the real 1st lady please stand up Conspiracy Theories 11
StarGazer Claim: First Image of Space Taken from V-2 Rocket Proves the Earth is Flat Flat Earth 17
Z.W. Wolf Claim: The Moon's Shadow During The Solar Eclipse Disproves Sphere Earth Flat Earth 97
Related Articles


















































Related Articles

Top