January 22, 2021 | Jerry Bergman

Smelly Gas on Venus Was Never Alive

Still Looking for Life in Our Solar System:
Phosphine Gas Excites Scientists

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

The idea of finding life, any form no matter how simple, on another planet is seen by Darwinists as proof that life can evolve anywhere if the conditions are right. Therefore, intelligence is not required to create life. Time, luck, and the right environment will do. Many billions of dollars have been spent looking for life in our Solar System. Even only requirements of life, like water, will help “prove” evolution and abiogenesis.

I once asked a friend of mine who works as a PhD level scientist for NASA if what I had heard, that the main goal of NASA now is to find evidence of life on some planet to prove that life does not need an intelligent creator, was true. He said, yes, that clearly is a major goal. I then asked him how could he, as a creationist, work there? His answer was he loves his job, his wife also works nearby as a PhD level research scientist, and NASA does learn much about the universe from their space program. Conversely, he is fully convinced that evidence of life elsewhere in our Solar System will never be found. He related that he says over and over to himself, “I told you so,” after each hint for life fails to pan out, which is true of every past hope.

One planet that continues to dish out false hope is Venus. To planetary scientists, Venus tells them “a lot about the prospects for finding life.”[1]

Phosphine Gas Produces the Initial Excitement

The September 14 issue of New Scientist created the buzz, announcing:

The clouds of Venus may contain life. Some 50 to 60 kilometers above the surface, there are small quantities of phosphine gas, a substance that is present in Earth’s atmosphere because it is produced by microbes and by human technological processes. There are no known non-biological mechanisms of making the gas on Venus, so it may be being produced by alien microbes.[2]

They evaluated data obtained from both the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array in Chile to be certain of their identification. In the data from both telescopes they were certain that there was evidence of phosphine gas in the Venusian clouds. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Clara Sousa-Silva explained, after checking for every other possibility, that

We’ve exhausted the possibilities. Only two scenarios remain: either there is something going on in Venus’s clouds that we don’t understand, or whatever is producing all that phosphine is alive. It’s basically …  we just found Venusians and that’s incredible…. The fact that it’s even a possibility is really breathtaking.[3]

The Cassini mission passed by Venus twice in 1998 and 1999.

Although the surface of Venus is both crushingly dense and hot, the clouds are relatively temperate, so the idea of life floating in the enormous Venusian clouds isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility.  Where the phosphine was found, 50 to 60 kilometers above ground level, the atmospheric temperature is very conducive to life. North Carolina State University professor Paul Byrne acknowledged the idea of finding life on Venus is not new, writing: “For decades, people have argued that Venus may be habitable. Before it was just a conjecture, a place where biology could in theory be possible, but now we have this phosphine” evidence for life on Venus![4] The news report added: “On Earth, this gas is only produced by living organisms, and there seems to be no other way to make it on Venus, so this was interpreted as a sign that life may be floating in the Venusian clouds.”[5] The research led

by Clara Sousa-Silva at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who was part of the team involved in the discovery, submitted a paper on phosphine with a body of evidence that it was associated with biology and was potentially detectable on exoplanets. A few months after that, Jane [Greaves at Cardiff University, UK, the leader of the collaboration] reached out to say: “Hey, we think we found it on Venus.[6]

Clara Sousa-Silva was very cautious and wanted to find phosphine gas on another planet besides Earth, but didn’t have much hope that it would happen in her lifetime. So Sousa-Silva and her colleagues made a list of possible ways phosphine could be made on Venus and none of them could explain the current observations found on this planet, lending support to her deduction that Venus  harbors life.

The scientists soon began working to constrain the phosphine observations with even more detailed measurements. Certainty, they realized, would require spending large amounts of money to send a spacecraft to Venus. As Professor Paul Byrn writes: “You want to get into the atmosphere and sample it to see what’s there.” Crane concluded if those samples from Venus “have life in them, even if it is tiny microbes, the planet next door could upend our ideas about what life can be and how it arises.[7]

So important was the possibility, that a new article in New Scientist came out the following month announcing: “A team of researchers has used two of the biggest telescopes on Earth to find signs of phosphine gas on Venus” [8] They admitted “unless we can show definitively that this phosphine was produced by life, there will always be a chance that it was produced by a non-biological chemical process.” Then they added the following conclusion, illustrating their confidence in finding life on Venus was so great that “the team tested all the processes we know that could happen on Venus, and none made enough gas to account for what has been seen.”[9]

Yet another article, the third in New Scientist, expanded on the conclusions of the first two articles supporting the findings of life on Venus by evaluating older studies.[10] The authors noted that on Earth phosphine is produced by microbes, so they reasoned that microbes on Venus could also produce phosphine without knowing anything about Venusian organisms. They speculated that life on Venus would be fairly simple (ignoring the fact that simple life has never been found on Earth).

Simple Life Does Not Exist

The simplest bacterium known on Earth is enormously complex. Studies published in 2009 verified that “Even the simplest cell appears to be far more complex than researchers had imagined. In a series of three articles in the journal ScienceMycoplasma pneumoniae, a small bacterium consisting of a single cell [was examined]. In humans, this bacterium causes atypical pneumonia. It is one of the smallest prokaryotes that can multiply itself without using the cell mechanism of a host” [yet is far more complex than previously believed].[11] Another study that year added that its assembly and design was far more complex than previously thought.[12]

Another Disappointment: the Bubble Bursts

Recently, however, a new analysis has cast doubt on the validity of finding a signal of phosphine gas in Venus’s atmosphere. The reevaluation concluded that “the quantity of the gas seen couldn’t be produced by any known chemical processes on Venus.”[13] There was far too much phosphine gas! Then further analysis found “there are no signs of the gas after all.” None! The technique employed is the same used to determine the type of gas on any glowing body, including stars, namely the dark absorption lines in the light’s spectrum. A dark line is produced because certain light spectra are absorbed by the gases they have to pass through as the light leaves the source of the glowing that produces the light. The line absorbed depends on the gas, and the line absorbed shows as black. The original team “found an absorption line and identified it as phosphine,” but

Ignas Snellen at Leiden University in the Netherlands and his colleagues re-examined the data and found no such absorption line. The researchers say their new method of data analysis introduces fewer flaws…. This happens quite often in astronomy, with detections seen in objects that vanish when other people reduce the data… Because of the complexity of the information, there are many ways to process it. It has to be reduced to remove disturbances or noise, and Snellan and his team say the original methods used to do this introduced errors, such as the phosphine signal. When they tried to replicate it, they found that five more absorption or emission signals had been spuriously added.[14]

It would seem that this would end the hunt for life on Venus, but it did not. The researchers were not ready to give up. Possibly another evaluation of the data will produce another finding more favorable to their quest. Or new data may produce a new finding to support what they are looking for and hope to find.

This Finding Did Not End the Hunt for Life on Venus

This negative finding did not end the hunt for life on Venus but only emboldened the researchers to keep looking. By December, Leah Crane in New Scientist repeated the story that phosphine had been found on Venus, writing: “one of the biggest news stories of 2020 was the apparent sighting of phosphine in Venus’s atmosphere.”[15] She kept the dream alive, indicating that scientists should not give up hope. Other researchers may again re-analyze the results.[16]

Professor Sousa-Silva saw some propaganda value coming out of the fiasco in spite of its collapsed hopes. Namely, she pointed out, more people know about the phosphine compound and consider it a potential sign of life. She writes: “I hope this will be an era of thinking about more molecules that could be associated with life – not just the obvious ones associated with life that’s familiar and pleasant, but also life that’s different from us.”[17]

The press, of course, had gone wild touting the detection of phosphine as evidence of life on Venus. One headline read, “Something Weird Is Happening on Venus.” The discovery of a strange gas in its atmosphere puts the planet “into the realm of a perhaps inhabited world,” a researcher says. The article then stated

Scientists revealed today that they have detected traces of a gas in the Venusian atmosphere that, according to everything they understand about Venus, shouldn’t be there. They considered many explanations for what could be producing the gas, known as phosphine, and settled on an explanation guided by what they know about our own planet. On Earth, phosphine—a toxic gas—is produced by microorganisms.[18]

I reviewed several other articles and most left the impression—one that will probably stick in the minds of many people—that we have proof on life on Venus. The propaganda will live on. The retraction will probably be ignored (see “Retracted Papers Never Die,” 6 Jan 2021). Expect this claim to often be repeated for some time.

Conclusions

The effort to find life on another planet or moon in our Solar System is driven by Darwinism and materialism. The view that all life is a product of blind natural processes spurs the effort to search for it on other worlds. This drive will continue even after there is absolutely no evidence for life in our Solar System. Then the effort to find life will be increasingly directed to finding life in other planetary systems. Some scientists, however, do consider the possibility that we may, indeed, be alone in the universe.[19] A report by Oxford University scientists in 2018 concluded: “we find a substantial probability that we are alone in our galaxy, and perhaps even in our observable universe (53%–99.6% and 39%–85% respectively).” The Fermi Paradox underscores the ‘rare earth’ position. If they exist, “Where are they?’ — probably extremely far away, and quite possibly beyond the cosmological horizon and forever unreachable.”[20]

Update 1/27/2021: Whoops; Phys.org announced today, “Purported phosphine on Venus more likely to be ordinary sulfur dioxide, new study shows.” Planetary scientists have known about sulfur dioxide (another poison gas) surrounding Venus for decades; it’s the third most abundant gas at Venus. The mistaken identity between phosphine and sulfur dioxide was due to a measuring error called spectral line dilution, which made the absorption band for sulfur dioxide appear weaker than it should have been. No smelly gas; no microbes. Thus ends a temporary (and completely unnecessary) detour into Darwin Fantasyland. —Ed.

References

[1] Byre, Paul. 2021. Unveiling Earth’s Wayward Twin. American Scientist 109(1):30-37, January-February, p. 30.

[2] Crane, Leah. 2020a. Have we spotted alien life floating in the clouds of Venus? New Scientist, September 14.https://www.newscientist.com/article/2254413-have-we-spotted-alien-life-floating-in-the-clouds-of-venus/

[3] Crane, 2020a.

[4] Crane, Leah, 2020. Signs of life on Venus? New Scientist 247(3300):7, September 19.

[5] Crane, Leah. 2020d. Life on Venus? We’re still looking. New Scientist 248(3313-3314):24-25 December 19-26, p. 24.

[6] Crane, 2020d, p. 24.

[7] Crane, 2020a.

[8] Crane. 2020b. Life on Venus? Everything you need to know about the big discovery. New Scientist, September 14.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2254448-life-on-venus-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-big-discovery/#ixzz6kEFbOTCf

[9] Crane, 2020b.

[10] Crane, Leah. 2020c. Potential sign of Venus life supported by old NASA data. New Scientist 248(3303):12,  October 10.

[11] Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). 2009. Simplest bacteria unraveled at the cellular level. PhysOrg, December 28. https://phys.org/news/2009-12-simplest-bacteria-unravelled-cellular.html.

[12] European Molecular Biology Laboratory. 2009. First-ever blueprint of a minimal cell is more complex than expected. PhysOrg, November 26. https://phys.org/news/2009-11-first-ever-blueprint-minimal-cell-complex.html.

[13] Beall, Abigail. 2020. More doubts cast on potential signs of life on Venus. New Scientist, October 21. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2257987-more-doubts-cast-on-potential-signs-of-life-on-venus/#ixzz6kESfZOuy

[14] Beall, 2020.

[15] Crane, 2020d, p. 24.

[16] Crane, 2020d, pp. 24-25.

[17] Crane, 2020d, pp. 24-25.

[18] Koren, Marina. 2020, Something Weird Is Happening on Venus. The discovery of a strange gas in its atmosphere puts the planet “into the realm of a perhaps inhabited world,” a researcher says. The Atlantic. September 14. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/09/venus-life-phosphine-microbes/616342/ emphasis added.

[19] O’Neill, Natalie. 2018. Scientists say humans are alone in the universe. New York Post, June 26.https://nypost.com/2018/06/26/scientists-say-humans-are-alone-in-the-universe/. [See also “Dissolving the Fermi Paradox” (June 8, 2018) by Anders Sandberg, Eric Drexler, and Toby Ord. Oxford University, UK: Future of Humanity Institute. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1806.02404.pdf.

[20] Sandberg, Anders, Eric Drexler, and Toby Ord. 2018. “Dissolving the Fermi Paradox.” Oxford University, UK: Future of Humanity Institute, June 8. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1806.02404.pdf.


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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