Weekend Round-Up: Made In Portugal, Electric Bikes, And The Venusian Atmosphere

Weekend Round-Up: Made In Portugal, Electric Bikes, And The Venusian Atmosphere

Chemistry is a funny thing, and so is the search for extraterrestrial life. They are, in fact, two great things that go great together. The likeliest scenario for the detection of life on other worlds is the detection of chemical biosignatures – the presence of chemicals, or fluctuations in levels of chemicals, or both, which have no explanation other than the metabolic processes of alien life. The problem is that various chemicals can be produced by a range of processes, some of which are metabolic pathways in living organisms, but some of which are not, and telling which is which is far from easy (Mars, for instance, has seasonal fluctuations in the amount of methane in its atmosphere, but there's no certain proof whatsoever, at this point, that microbial life is the reason). Recently, however, researchers have found evidence of a chemical compound called phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. Venus is one of the most inhospitable of planets – surface temperature hot enough to melt lead; surface atmospheric pressure 90 times that on earth's surface, and it rains sulphuric acid (the Venusian atmosphere is almost pure carbon dioxide, and its greenhouse effects have turned Venus into the hell-world it is today). But things are more moderate in the upper levels of the clouds which permanently shroud the Venusian atmosphere, and it's possible – just possible – that there, life has found a foothold, with phosphine as its signature. Phosphine is produced almost exclusively on Earth by anaerobic microbes. If there is life floating above the ...
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