13 Jan 2021 22:01

RAS Space Council to create commission to search for signs of life on Venus

MOSCOW. Jan 13 (Interfax) - The Space Council of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) has noted the importance of confirming the presence of phosphine on Venus as a possible biomarker, the Space Council said in a decision.

According to the document, having listened to and discussed a report delivered by Oleg Korablyov, an RAS associate member, the RAS Space Council put forward an initiative to create a cross-disciplinary commission called Astrophosphine under the auspices of the Astrobiology Council of the RAS Presidium to discuss the possibilities for observing phosphine in a natural and laboratory environment.

The council also emphasized "the need for relevant experiments" on board the Indian spacecraft Venus Orbiter Mission, to be launched in 2024, and as part of Russia's Venera-D program.

In this light, the council noted the importance of confirming or denying the presence of phosphine on Venus as a potential biomarker.

Leading research fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Space Research Institute Natan Eismont told Interfax earlier that the presence of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus does not prove that there could be life on the planet, so the Russian-U.S. Venera-D mission is planning to carry out additional research.

"There are certain signs in Venus's atmosphere which give hope for finding life. That's why instruments capable of confirming or denying the presence of life on the planet have been included in the Venera-D equipment," Eismont said on Monday, when commenting on reports on the discovery of phosphine gas in Venus's atmosphere.

The existence of life on Venus was previously questionable, but now scientists believe that life could exist in the upper layers of the atmosphere, where conditions are similar to those of Earth, he said.

President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeyev said in March 2019 that a joint working group would be set up in October 2019 for brainstorming on the Venera-D mission and drafting an estimate to be presented to NASA and Roscosmos for consideration.

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin told journalists on September 16, 2020 that the Venera-D mission and other Venus probes are included in Russia's next space program.

NPO Lavochkin chief engineer Dmitry Khmel said in January 2020 that the company was preparing a big program for studying Venus.

Roscosmos Executive Director Alexander Bloshenko said earlier that Russia is planning to implement the Venera-D project without extensive international cooperation.

NASA's full-scale involvement as a partner in the project was planned previously. Korablyov told Interfax earlier that NASA was supposed to allocate $300 million to the Russian-U.S. mission to Venus. According to Korablyov, Russia must contribute 17 billion rubles.

The funding of research-and-development works should begin in 2019-2020, in order to launch the mission in 2029, he said.

The equipment will include a landing module, which will take soil samples from the planet. The module may work for about a day.

The discovery of phosphine in Venus's atmosphere was announced at a press conference at the British Royal Astronomical Society. The discovery was made by astronomers from the United States and the United Kingdom. Phosphine is produced by bacteria in anaerobic ecosystems on Earth. The presence of phosphine is considered one of the signs of life on a planet.