Scientists around the world were thrilled last year when it was announced that researchers believed they had discovered phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. The reason phosphine is such a big deal is because on Earth it is produced by living beings. This led some to believe that the phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus resulted from some potential life on Venus.
However, a new analysis of this initial data discovered what could be a significant error in the previous survey. The analysis shows that researchers who first reported the detection of phosphine may have incorrectly detected sulfur dioxide. According to the authors of the new research article, the original article stated that 20 parts per billion phosphine were detected in the atmosphere of Venus.
The original researchers reevaluated some of their initial findings and said the phosphine signal remained, but at a much lower concentration of one part per billion. Even if the concentration was one part per billion, the discovery was still significant. Phosphine would not last long in the Venusian atmosphere under any conditions, unless it was constantly replaced.
The new team of researchers who analyzed the data believes that the discovery of one part per billion was a measurement error. They think the original scientists were detecting sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide is the third most common chemical compound in the Venusian atmosphere and is not considered an indication of life.
The new article suggests that the error arose when early scientists were using it to estimate the amount of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere of Venus. They believe the telescope could have lost 90 to 95 percent of the sulfur dioxide present. This would increase the chance that the signal attributed to phosphine is caused by sulfur dioxide.