General, Research, Technology

Poisonous substance may indicate life on exoplanets

Phosphine - one of the most unpleasant smelling andpoisonous gases on Earth, which can be found in the dirtiest places on the planet: in heaps of penguin manure, in the depths of swamps and even inside some badgers and fish. This putrid “swamp gas” is highly flammable and reacts with particles in our atmosphere. According to the portal, despite the fact that most terrestrial organisms try to stay away from phosphine, some anaerobic bacteria and microbes use gas as our usual oxygen. What could such a discovery mean for finding life on distant exoplanets?

View of one of the exoplanets and its moon in the artist's view

How to find life on an exoplanet?

Finding traces of “brothers in mind” has always beenone of the main goals of modern astronomy. According to the latest news, experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered a potentially promising way to search for alien life that uses phosphine as an alternative to oxygen. In an article recently published in the journal Astrobiology, researchers report that if phosphine were produced in quantities similar to methane on Earth, gas could generate a large amount of light in the atmosphere of the planet. So, scientists argue that the brightness of the radiation would be quite sufficient for us to be able to detect it from a distance of 16 light years using a modern space telescope.

See also: Exoplanet evaporates. And by space standards - very fast!

Despite the fact that on Earth the main signthe presence of life is oxygen, on other rocky planets its role may be played by the aforementioned phosphine, which may turn out to be a potential biosignal for researchers. However, it was this substance that was found in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn - extremely hot gas giants. Scientists believe that the desired substance was discovered only because phosphine molecules were ejected into the upper atmosphere due to the huge, planetary-sized storms.

On Jupiter, a substance indicating the potential existence of life was found - phosphine.

Massachusetts Technology SpecialistsThe institutes noted that phosphine is a highly toxic substance that can be found on Earth almost everywhere in lake and swamp sediments. Being a substance consisting of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms, which usually do not combine under natural conditions, phosphine requires a huge amount of energy for its formation. Its presence explains the origin of matter in the atmospheres of the giant planets of the solar system, however, on stony objects with less energy, phosphine can indicate the presence of life.

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In order to verify this, scientistssimulated atmospheres of idealized, oxygen-poor exoplanets of the Earth type, the main components of the air envelope of which were hydrogen and carbon dioxide. In the simulation, it was found that if phosphine were produced in relatively small amounts equivalent to the amount of methane produced on Earth today, it would produce a powerful signal in the atmosphere that would be clear enough to be detected using an advanced observatory. Well, it seems, we will be able to test the theory of astronomers about phosphine in the very near future, when the James Webb space telescope will finally be launched into near-earth orbit.