Humanity is relentless in its search for traces of extraterrestrial life, but most often mistakes wishful thinking, such as the gas produced by living organisms in the Earth's atmosphere for evidence of life on Venus.
We are constantly looking for evidence that we are not alone in the Universe, and first and foremost examine the planets and their satellites closest to us. Until now, astronomers are looking for traces of life, modern or long extinct, on Mars, consider the possibility of its existence on Europa, do not rule out the settlement of Enceladus.
These searches have not bypassed Venus: although the world, where acid clouds float over the heated earth, looks far from the description "suitable for life," in 2020, astronomers reported the presence in the atmosphere of Venus of phosphine, which on Earth is produced by anaerobic ecosystems. Its concentration turned out to be low, but the finding spurred concepts of "atmospheric life" hovering over the planet's surface, heated to 470 degrees.
But before talking about the possibility of life, it's worth double-checking the scientific data - and an international team of researchers from the United States and Germany used a unique observational platform to do so: the Stratospheric Infrared Astronomy Observatory (SOFIA).
This observatory, as the name implies, is located in the stratosphere, 12 to 14 kilometers above the ground. Because of this, SOFIA is located above most of the Earth's atmosphere, which greatly reduces the likelihood of receiving a phosphine signal from terrestrial sources. Using the GREAT instrument with high spectral resolution, the scientists collected spectroscopic data in the far infrared range at an altitude of 75-110 kilometers above the surface of Venus during three observation flights.
The results were unequivocal: no trace of phosphine was found in the atmosphere of Venus, so even if it is present on this planet, its concentration is at best 0.8 fractions per billion. It is likely that the results of previous studies were distorted by phosphine of terrestrial origin, which is present in insignificant quantities in the atmosphere of our planet.
While the only hope to still find traces of life on Venus - to get the results of the study of the planet's atmosphere probe DAVINCI +, which NASA is going to launch at the end of the current decade. Until then, those who hope to encounter extraterrestrial life forms can only wait.