Meteor that skimmed Earth may have brought life to Venus, Harvard study suggests

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Traces of phosphine gas was recently detected in the clouds of Venus, which suggests it could supports life – but a new study proposes the compounds may have originated from Earth.

Harvard researchers theorize that the biosignatures gas came to Venus from meteorites that grazed our planet’s atmosphere and crashed into the distant planet.

This notion was developed from a 2017 meteor that grazed Earth’s atmosphere over Australia for 90 seconds and then headed back on its journey to deep space.

The team believes this meteor could have collected up some 10,000 microbial colonies from our world and carried it to another.

The study notes that over the last 3.7 billion years, at least 600,000 space rocks that dipped into Earth’s atmosphere have a collided with Venus.

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Traces of phosphine gas was recently detected in the clouds of Venus, which suggests it could supports life - but a new study proposes the compounds may have originated from Earth

Traces of phosphine gas was recently detected in the clouds of Venus, which suggests it could supports life – but a new study proposes the compounds may have originated from Earth 

The 2017 meteor skimmed across Earth’s atmosphere for one and a half minutes at more than 35,000 miles per hour before returning to space.

Based on its trajectory as it skimmed the atmosphere, the team estimate that the rock was around 12 inches across and likely weighed at least 132 pounds.

‘Although the abundance of terrestrial life in the upper atmosphere is unknown, these planet-grazing shepherds could have potentially been capable of transferring microbial life between the atmospheres of Earth and Venus,’ the Harvard study reads.

‘As a result, the origin of possible Venusian life may be fundamentally indistinguishable from that of terrestrial life.’

Harvard researchers theorize that the biosignatures gas came to Venus from meteorites that grazed our planet's atmosphere and crashed into the distant planet

Harvard researchers theorize that the biosignatures gas came to Venus from meteorites that grazed our planet’s atmosphere and crashed into the distant planet

Previous research determined that life is found up to an altitude of 43 miles from the surface.

Earth-grazing asteroids can dip 52 miles without experiencing significant heating – another lower would kill any life it gathered from our planet.

‘Further work is needed to investigate the existence and abundance of microbial life in the upper atmosphere,’ reads the study.

The team also notes that if a meteor coming from Earth enters the atmosphere of another planet, hitchhiking microbes could be released in clouds before the rock disintegrates in the atmosphere.

‘A future probe that could sample the habitable cloud deck of Venus will potentially enable the direct discovery of microbial life outside of Earth, the team wrote.’

‘Specifically, the capability to either directly analyze microbes in situ or to return an atmospheric sample to Earth will be critical in the design of a successful mission. Finding exactly the same genomic material and helicity on Venus and Earth would constitute a smoking gun for panspermia.’

This notion was developed from a 2017 meteor that grazed Earth's atmosphere over Australia for 90 seconds and then headed back on its journey to deep space. The team believes this meteor could have collected up some 10,000 microbial colonies from our world and carried it to another

This notion was developed from a 2017 meteor that grazed Earth’s atmosphere over Australia for 90 seconds and then headed back on its journey to deep space. The team believes this meteor could have collected up some 10,000 microbial colonies from our world and carried it to another

Researchers detected a so-called spectral signature (pictured) that is unique to phosphine — furthermore were able to estimated that the gas is present in Venus' clouds in an abundance of around 20 parts-per-billion. However, they were unable to determine the exactly source of the detected trace quantities of the gas

Researchers detected a so-called spectral signature (pictured) that is unique to phosphine — furthermore were able to estimated that the gas is present in Venus’ clouds in an abundance of around 20 parts-per-billion. However, they were unable to determine the exactly source of the detected trace quantities of the gas

On September 14, researchers announced Venus has traces of the biosignatures gas.

Astronomers at Wales’ Cardiff University and colleagues observed Venus using both the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope at Hawaii’s Mauna Kea Observatory and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile.

They detected a so-called spectral signature that is unique to phosphine — and furthermore were able to estimated that the gas is present in Venus’ clouds in an abundance of around 20 parts-per-billion.

The team explored assorted ways that the gas could have been produced in this setting — including from sources on the surface of the planet, micrometeorites, lightning, or chemical processes happening within the clouds themselves.

However, they were unable to determine exactly what is the source of the detected trace quantities of the gas.

The researchers have cautioned that the detection of phosphine is not itself robust evidence for alien microbial life — and only indicates that potentially unknown geological or chemical processes are occurring on the planet.

Further observations and modelling will be needed, they added, to better explore the origin of the gas in the planet’s atmosphere.

KEY DISCOVERIES IN HUMANITY’S SEARCH FOR ALIEN LIFE

Discovery of pulsars

British astronomer Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was the first person to discover a pulsar in 1967 when she spotted a radio pulsar.

Since then other types of pulsars that emit x-rays and gamma rays have also been spotted.

Pulsars are essentially rotating, highly magnatised neutron stars but when they were first discovered it was believed they could come from aliens.

‘Wow!’ radio signal

In 1977, an astronomer looking for alien life in the nigh sky above Ohio spotted a powerful radio signal so strong that he excitedly wrote ‘Wow!’ next to his data.

In 1977, an astronomer looking for alien life in the nigh sky above Ohio spotted a powerful radio signal so strong that he excitedly wrote 'Wow!' next to his data

In 1977, an astronomer looking for alien life in the nigh sky above Ohio spotted a powerful radio signal so strong that he excitedly wrote ‘Wow!’ next to his data

The 72-second blast, spotted by Dr Jerry Ehman through a radio telescope, came from Sagittarius but matched no known celestial object.

Conspiracy theorists have since claimed that the ‘Wow! signal’, which was 30 times stronger than background radiation, was a message from intelligent extraterrestrials.

Fossilised martian microbes

In 1996 Nasa and the White House made the explosive announcement that the rock contained traces of Martian bugs.

The meteorite, catalogued as Allen Hills (ALH) 84001, crashed onto the frozen wastes of Antarctica 13,000 years ago and was recovered in 1984. 

Photographs were released showing elongated segmented objects that appeared strikingly lifelike.

Photographs were released showing elongated segmented objects that appeared strikingly lifelike (pictured)

Photographs were released showing elongated segmented objects that appeared strikingly lifelike (pictured)

However, the excitement did not last long. Other scientists questioned whether the meteorite samples were contaminated. 

They also argued that heat generated when the rock was blasted into space may have created mineral structures that could be mistaken for microfossils. 

Behaviour of Tabby’s Star in 2005 

The star, otherwise known as KIC 8462852, is located 1,400 light years away and has baffled astonomers since being discovered in 2015.

It dims at a much faster rate than other stars, which some experts have suggested is a sign of aliens harnessing the energy of a star.

The star, otherwise known as KIC 8462852, is located 1,400 light years away and has baffled astonomers since being discovered in 2015 (artist's impression)

The star, otherwise known as KIC 8462852, is located 1,400 light years away and has baffled astonomers since being discovered in 2015 (artist’s impression)

Recent studies have ‘eliminated the possibility of an alien megastructure’, and instead, suggests that a ring of dust could be causing the strange signals.

Exoplanets in the Goldilocks zone in 2015 

In February this year astronomers announced they had spotted a star system with planets that could support life just 39 light years away.

Seven Earth-like planets were discovered orbiting nearby dwarf star ‘Trappist-1’, and all of them could have water at their surface, one of the key components of life.

Three of the planets have such good conditions, that scientists say life may have already evolved on them. 

Researchers claim that they will know whether or not there is life on any of the planets within a decade, and said ‘this is just the beginning.’ 

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