Intriguing 'Life' Signal on Venus Was Plain Old Sulphur Dioxide, New Research Suggests

The team responsible for the apparent discovery, led by astronomer Jane Greaves from Cardiff University, found the evidence in spectral signals collected by two radio dishes: the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

“Instead of phosphine in the clouds of Venus, the data are consistent with an alternative hypothesis: They were detecting sulfur dioxide,” Victoria Meadows, a co-author of the new study and an astronomy professor at the University of Washington, explained in a statement .

Meadows, along with researchers from NASA, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of California, Riverside, reached this conclusion by modeling conditions inside the Venusian atmosphere, which they did to re-interpret the radio data gathered by the original team.

Equipped with the model, the researchers simulated spectral lines produced by phosphine and sulphur at multiple atmospheric altitudes on Venus, as well as how those signatures were received by ALMA and JCMT.

Results showed that the shape of the signal, detected at 266.94 gigahertz, likely came from the Venusian mesosphere—an extreme height where sulphur dioxide can exist but phosphine cannot owing to the harsh conditions there, according to research.

Back in December, Snellen and his colleagues challenged the Nature study, arguing that the method used by the Greaves team resulted in a “spurious” high signal-to-noise ratio and that “no statistical evidence” exists for phosphine on Venus.

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