Venus, a planet close to Earth with an inferno of hot gases, could host a possible sign of life. The recent discovery has excited some of the most important figures in private space.
In a study published Monday in the journal Natural astronomy, scientists announced that they discovered traces of phosphine gas in the Venusian atmosphere. The gas is usually associated with life on earth. But at almost 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, the surface of Venus is not exactly hospitable to life in the form we are used to – and the team can not explain how the gas got there. Lead author Jane Greaves described the discovery as “very unexpected and very exciting.”
For Peter Beck, CEO of the private space company Rocket Lab, the discovery confirmed 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 reset the planning of a trip to Venus.
“Today’s research highlights why we have to go, and soon,” Beck says Vise versa.
Private interest in Venus – Breakthrough initiatives also announced that they would investigate Venus further. 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 all over the Earth would be really important. And if there is a not insignificant chance that it is right next to Venus, exploring this possibility is an urgent priority for our civilization. ”
Meanwhile, Beck has previously talked about his passion for Venus. In August 2020, he said during a livestream that he is “wildly in love with Venus” with plans to host a private mission to the planet by 2023. The mission would target air environments about 30 miles above the surface, where conditions are closer to those there found on Earth.
“I’ve always had a passion for Venus,” Beck says Vise versa.
“It has long been thought that its atmosphere could potentially support a form of life, and I have always been eager to send a probe to find out. However, more than just the search for life, Venus is a pretty good Earth analogue to runaway climate change, so I think there’s a lot we can learn from Venus’ past and apply to Earth’s future. “
Venus has attracted the attention of fans interested in the new space race, a race with a more prominent role for private companies. A map shared on Reddit last month showed what the planet would look like if its surface were covered by a similar amount of water to Earth. The map followed up from an earlier map using the same treatment on Mars. Both planets have been the subject of discussion around terraforming, a man-made transformation of the atmosphere and the surface.
So far, the only terrestrial visitor near Venus is Akatsuki, a Japanese space probe. It has contributed to the study of the planet’s gravitational waves, equatorial jet streams and the physics of the clouds.
While Rocket Lab is one of the key companies in this new space race, Beck’s focus is on the Venus Photon spacecraft. The company’s satellite design supports launches at a variety of heights.
“About a year ago, when work began in earnest on our mission to the lunar orbit of NASA, we set out to design a photon spacecraft capable of a mission to the moon, but also to Venus,” says Beck. “The evolution of this spacecraft and mission is now well underway. The first mission to Venus will be a private one with an atmospheric probe to take a closer look at the potential for 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 to explore different chemical conditions than those on Earth. Our nearest neighbor, Venus, has the cloud cover, which is temperate but hyperacid. Here we report the apparent presence of phosphine (PH3) gas in Venus’ atmosphere, where any phosphorus must be in oxidized form. Single line spectrum detections with millimeter wave bands (quality up to ~ 15σ) from the JCMT and ALMA telescopes have no other probable identification. Atmospheric PH3 at ~ 20 ppb abundance is discharged. The presence of PH3 is inexplicable after exhaustive study of steady-state chemistry and photochemical pathways, without any known abiotic production routes in Venus’ atmosphere, clouds, surface and subsoil or from lightning, volcanic or meteoritic delivery. PH3 could be derived from unknown photochemistry or geochemistry or, analogously to biological production of PH3 on Earth, from the presence of life. Other PH3 spectral properties should be sought, while in situ cloud and surface sampling can investigate sources of this gas.