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Gas on Venus ignites hope of answering: Is anybody out there?

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Issued on: 15/09/2020 – 15:13

Scientists have hailed the discovery of a gas known as phosphine in the clouds above Venus. It’s the first time the rare molecule has been found on a rocky planet other that Earth, which has sparked excitement that it could lead a step closer to proving the existence of extraterrestrial life.

The atmosphere of Venus contains a gas that on Earth “can be attributed to living organisms”, scientists said in a report published in the science journal Nature Astronomy.

Phosphine is a flammable gas that can only come from the breakdown of organic matter or man-made processes.

“The detection of phosphine molecules, which consist of hydrogen and phosphorus, could point to this extraterrestrial ‘aerial’ life,” says the report.

The research provided evidence “for anomalous and unexplained chemistry” which may be a stepping stone towards other projects on Venus.

Exciting findings

Lead author Jane Greaves, from Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy told AFP that the presence of phosphine alone was not proof of life on one of Earth’s closest neighbours.

“I don’t think we can say that – even if a planet was abundant in phosphorus, it might lack something else important to life – some other element, or conditions might be too hot, too dry,” she said.

However it is the first time phosphine has been found on a rocky planet other than Earth, and the only way to know more would be to send a spacecraft to collect samples, Greaves added.

To collect the data, the astronomers used telescopes in Hawaii and Chile’s Atacama Desert to observe Venus’ upper cloud levels, around 60 kilometres from the surface, where temperatures are around 20-30 degrees Celsius.

Venus’ daytime temperatures of up to 400 degrees Celsius are hot enough to melt lead and its atmosphere is comprised almost entirely of carbon dioxide.

The clouds of the planet are incredibly acidic – around 90 percent sulphuric acid – posing major issues for microbes to survive there, astronomers said.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States provided some extra research into how phosphine is produced in nature to better understand the research, as explained in this video.

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However, the group warns that some information is lacking – and that the only other study of phosphorus on Venus came from one lander experiment, carried by the Soviet Vega 2 mission in 1985.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine reacted on social media, calling the Cardiff group study “the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth,” and “it’s time to prioritise Venus.”

Will Venus steal Mars’s thunder?

Until now, Earth’s other closest neighbour Mars has attracted more attention in terms of space exploration, with several unmanned probes launched by the US and China in the bid to find proof of life.

In one of the latest projects, Nasa at the end of July launched the ‘Perseverance‘ rover which is due to land in February 2021.

But Alan Duffy, an astronomer from Swinburne University and Lead Scientist of The Royal Institution of Australia, said the Venus find was “one of the most exciting signs of the possible presence of life beyond Earth I have ever seen”.

But he admitted: “We have to rule out all possible other non-biological means of producing it.

Professor Emma Bunce, President of the Royal Astronomical Society of the UK said the breakthrough “makes a strong case for a return space mission to Venus”.

Source:- RFI English

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Rare Full Moon Expected on Halloween Night – AM800 (iHeartRadio)

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Halloween may seem extra spooky this year thanks to a full moon.

It’ll be visible in every time zone on Saturday, something that hasn’t happened since 1944. 

It’s also known as a “blue” moon, even though the color won’t change.

Scientists use the term to describe the second full moon of the month.

A full moon on Halloween won’t happen again until 2039.

With files from MetroSource and CTV News

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Where’s the sea ice? 3 reasons the Arctic freeze is unseasonably late and why it matters – The Conversation US

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With the setting of the sun and the onset of polar darkness, the Arctic Ocean would normally be crusted with sea ice along the Siberian coast by now. But this year, the water is still open.

I’ve watched the region’s transformations since the 1980s as an Arctic climate scientist and, since 2008, as director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. I can tell you, this is not normal. There’s so much more heat in the ocean now than there used to be that the pattern of autumn ice growth has been completely disrupted.

To understand what’s happening to the sea ice this year and why it’s a problem, let’s look back at the summer and into the Arctic Ocean itself.

Siberia’s 100-degree summer

The summer melt season in the Arctic started early. A Siberian heat wave in June pushed air temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit at Verkhoyansk, Russia, for the first time on record, and unusual heat extended over much of the Arctic for weeks.

The Arctic as a whole this past summer was at its warmest since at least 1979, when satellite measurements started providing data allowing for full coverage of the Arctic.

With that heat, large areas of sea ice melted out early, and that melting launched a feedback process: The loss of reflective sea ice exposed dark open ocean, which readily absorbs the sun’s heat, promoting even more ice melt.

The Northern Sea Route, along the Russian coast, was essentially free of ice by the middle of July. That may be a dream for shipping interests, but it’s bad news for the rest of the planet.

Warmth sneaks in underwater

The warm summer is only part of the explanation for this year’s unusual sea ice levels.

Streams of warmer water from the Atlantic Ocean flow into the Arctic at the Barents Sea. This warmer, saltier Atlantic water is usually fairly deep under the more buoyant Arctic water at the surface. Lately, however, the Atlantic water has been creeping up. That heat in the Atlantic water is helping to keep ice from forming and melting existing sea ice from below.

It’s a process called “Atlantification”. The ice is now getting hit both from the top by a warming atmosphere and at the bottom by a warming ocean. It’s a real double whammy.

While we’re still trying to catch up with all of the processes leading to Atlantification, it’s here and it’s likely to get stronger.

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Climate change’s assault on sea ice

In the background of all of this is global climate change.

The Arctic sea ice extent and thickness have been dropping for decades as global temperatures rise. This year, when the ice reached its minimum extent in September, it was the second lowest on record, just behind that of 2012.

As the Arctic loses ice and the ocean absorbs more solar radiation, global warming is amplified. That can affect ocean circulation, weather patterns and Arctic ecosystems spanning the food chain, from phytoplankton all the way to top predators.

On the Atlantic side of the Arctic, open water this year extended to within 5 degrees of the North Pole. The new Russian Icebreaker Arktika, on its maiden voyage, found easy sailing all the way to the North Pole. A goal of its voyage was to test how the nuclear-powered ship handled thick ice, but instead of the hoped-for 3-meter-thick ice, most of the ice was in a loose pack. It was little more than 1 meter thick, offering little resistance.

For sea ice to build up again this year, the upper layer of the Arctic Ocean needs to lose the excess heat it picked up during summer.

The pattern of regional anomalies in ice extent is different each year, reflecting influences like regional patterns of temperature and winds. But today, it’s superimposed on the overall thinning of the ice as global temperatures rise. Had the same atmospheric patterns driving this year’s big ice loss off Siberia happened 30 years ago, the impact would have been much less, as the ice was more resilient then and could have taken a punch. Now it can’t.

Is sea ice headed for a tipping point?

The decay of the Arctic sea ice cover shows no sign of stopping. There probably won’t be a clear tipping point for the sea ice, though.

Research so far suggests we’ll stay on the current path, with the amount of ice declining and weather systems more easily disrupting the ice because it’s thinner and weaker than it used to be.

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The bigger picture

This year’s events in the Arctic are just part of the climate change story of 2020.

Global average temperatures have been at or near record highs since January. The West has been both hot and dry – the perfect recipe for massive wildfires – and warm water in the Gulf of Mexico has helped fuel more tropical storms in the Atlantic than there are letters in the alphabet. If you’ve been ignoring climate change and hoping that it will just go away, now would be an appropriate time to pay attention.

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New Methane Discharge Discovered in Russia's Arctic – Guardian – The Moscow Times

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A new source of methane discharge has been discovered in the Arctic Ocean near eastern Siberia, raising concerns of a “new tipping point” that could speed up the pace of global warming, The Guardian reported Tuesday. 

Scientists found the potent greenhouse gas bubbling from a depth of 350 meters in the Laptev Sea, with surface-level concentrations that vent into the atmosphere between four and eight times the normal amount. One of the six monitoring points showed methane concentrations 400 times higher than expected under the normal air-sea equilibrium.

“The discovery of actively releasing shelf slope hydrates is very important and unknown until now. This is a new page,” said Igor Semiletov, chief scientist onboard the Akademik M. Keldysh research vessel that’s part of a multi-year Russian-Swedish International Siberian Shelf Study expedition.

The discovery is prompting concerns that a new feedback loop that accelerates climate change may have already been triggered. A recent study co-authored by a member of the expedition found that the loop could be activated if the Arctic warms by just a few degrees.

At this moment, there is unlikely to be any major impact on global warming, but the point is that this process has now been triggered,” Swedish scientist and study co-author Örjan Gustafsson told The Guardian from the vessel.

This East Siberian slope methane hydrate system has been perturbed and the process will be ongoing.” 

The Guardian reported that warm Atlantic currents driven by human-induced climate disruption are the likely cause of the massive methane discharge.  

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as any other place on Earth and The Guardian reported that it is yet to begin freezing for the winter, already surpassing records for the latest date for sea ice formation after melting unusually early this spring. 

This is potentially the third source of methane emissions from the shallower parts of the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea. Semiletov’s expedition released first photos of a massive fountain of methane gas bubbling from the floor of the East Siberian Sea last fall.

The scientists stressed that their findings are considered preliminary until they analyze the data collected on the ground and have their studies peer-reviewed.

The discovery of actively releasing shelf slope hydrates is very important and unknown until now,” Semiletov said. “Potentially they can have serious climate consequences, but we need more study before we can confirm that.

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