Discovery of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere could be sign of life

James Clerk Maxwell Telescope…1 of 2 used to detect phosphine on Venus

With phosphine in mind, an international team of researchers used two ground-based telescopes — the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile — to search for any possible signatures of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere. Sure enough, they found the gas at a concentration of five to 20 parts per billion in the atmosphere. That’s a lot when you compare it to how much is found on Earth, where the gas is concentrated in parts per trillion and parts per quadrillion. “That is all very much evidence pushing towards this exotic explanation of something replenishing it and something making it at large quantities,” says Clara Sousa-Silva…

If the phosphine detection is confirmed, then people will set to work figuring out where it’s coming from. It may turn out that life isn’t even the best explanation. The phosphine may have been found in clouds with moderate temperatures, but the area is still a ghastly place for life to survive, even for the hardiest of microorganisms. “There’s nothing definitive saying it is biology,” Rakesh Mogul, a biological chemist at California State Polytechnic University focusing on extreme microbial life, who is not involved in the study, tells The Verge. “There’s still a lot of unknowns. And it’s nice to put biology as the answer, but really, as scientists, we need to back it up and make sure we exhaustively study all the other possibilities.”

Nice to see scientists in charge of this information gathering and analysis. Imagine the hullabaloo if our politicians had authority over this research.

Venus under the Spitzkoppe Arch

Click to enlarge
Click to enlargeImage/Petr Horálek

…Although there was much to see in this spectacular panorama taken during the early morning hours of a day in late September, the brightest object in the sky was clearly the planet Venus.

In the featured image, Venus was captured actually through a natural rock bridge, itself picturesque, in Spitzkoppe, Namibia. The planet, on the left of the opening, was complemented by a silhouette of the astrophotographer on the right. Above and beyond the rock bridge were many famous icons of a dark night sky, including, from left to right, the Pleiades star cluster, the Orion Nebula, the bright star Sirius, and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. This week, Venus remains visible to the east in the pre-dawn sky, being complemented by Mars, which is angularly quite close.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

For the first time since 2004 – see 5 bright planets in the night sky

For the first time in almost a decade, sky-watchers this week will be able to see all five naked-eye planets over the course of one night for several nights in a row.

The classical naked-eye planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—can be seen easily without optical aids and so have been known since ancient times. But the quintet hasn’t appeared together during a single night since 2004.

What’s more, this week’s parade of planets will be joined in the nighttime skies by the waxing crescent to waxing gibbous moon and the superbright stars Sirius and Canopus…

Although the moon and the seven bright objects will all be visible in one night, they won’t all appear at the same time or in the same region of the sky.

The best time to catch sight of the cosmic parade will be between February 28 and March 7. This is when the more elusive planets Mercury and Mars will be at their brightest in the evening sky for 2012, and when the moon will be above the horizon for many hours before setting…

“The moon, of course, is our closest cosmic neighbor and the only one we can really study as a world with the naked eye or even simple binoculars…However these other points of light are all really bright objects in the sky too, so to get the full experience, take your time and let your eyes adapt to the darkness and enjoy..” said Geza Gyuk, an astronomer with the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

RTFA for suggestions in where to look and when. Enjoy. I hope you live somewhere with little light or no pollution.

Sorry, Northern Hemisphere only. 🙂

Japan’s Ikaros unfurls solar sail in space

Image of sail from onboard camera

Japanese scientists are celebrating the successful deployment of their solar sail, Ikaros.

The 200-sq-m membrane is attached to a small disc-shaped spacecraft that was put in orbit last month by an H-IIA rocket.

Ikaros will demonstrate the principle of using sunlight as a simple and efficient means of propulsion…The mission team will be watching to see if Ikaros produces a measurable acceleration, and how well its systems are able to steer the craft through space…

The principle of solar sailing is a simple one. Photons, or particles of light, falling on a highly reflective, ultra-thin (in this case, just 7.5 microns) surface will exert a pressure.

The force is tiny but continuous, and over time should produce a considerable velocity.


Setting sail through space is an excellent analogy to the history of human exploration.

Tonight’s the night!

Venus and Jupiter, the two brightest planets, have been marching toward each other for more than a month in the southwestern sky at dusk. As they’ve drawn closer together, the sight has been catching more people’s eyes, and now the show is reaching its climax.

This evening, weather permitting, you will see Venus and Jupiter blazing about a finger’s width apart at arm’s length. Look early enough and, far to their lower right, you can find the crescent moon just above the horizon…

Monday night brings the peak of the show. The two planets will remain as close as ever, and the moon will form a compact, extraordinary triangle with them.

The moon is currently 1.4 light-seconds distant, Venus is 8.4 light-minutes distant, and Jupiter is 42 light-minutes away. That’s how long the light from each has been traveling through space before it hits your eye.

The last paragraph is for folks with a 2-dimensional brain.