Life in Space-don’t get out in front of your data

“Is there Life on Mars?” sang David Bowie in the nineteen seventies. Try fitting the word “Venus” into that song at all necessary points. Because astronomers have now announced that the discovery of the gas phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus may be evidence of life on that planet. We include two articles from El Pais for your links. You may want to use a translator. But for once we can translate the entire content of both articles for you in a single word. CAUTION.

We have seen so many false dawns in the search for extra-terrestrial life. In the late nineteenth century Percival Lowell, then using the best telescope in the world, thought he had discovered a whole civilisation on Mars. There were the Viking results of 1976, which after initial excitement faded into “not proven”. Remember the Martian fossils twenty years later?

We at LSS once had the privilege of working alongside some of the best forensic scientists of their day. (we emphasise alongside, not as!) And the problem they faced was the same as these space scientists. You get a data point. It is real. Obviously it has implications; and once you think about these you are speculating by definition; you have moved out ahead of the data. How far can you go safely? The answer that the forensic scientists gave was very simple; don’t go very far; always apply the rules of logic; if possible, do more tests.

We at LSS have a sneaking hope that the results do prove the existence of life on Venus. But until more is understood about the chemistry of phosphine, particularly on hot, high pressure worlds like Venus, we think it is best to reserve judgement.

https://elpais.com/ciencia/2020-09-14/hallados-posibles-indicios-de-vida-en-venus.html

https://elpais.com/ciencia/2020-09-15/mas-dudas-que-microbios-flotando-en-las-nubes-de-venus.html

#phosphine #venus #astrobiology #life

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