Scientists say the smelly flammable phosphate hydrogen may be the surest sign of extraterrestrial life on another planet,media CNET reported. Hydrogen phosphate is highly toxic and can be found in penguin dung heaps or in the guts of slugs and fish. Usually, most life forms that require oxygen are kept away from phosphated hydrogen.
But now scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say phosphate hydrogen can only be produced in one way: anaerobic organisms, such as bacteria that can reproduce without oxygen. If astronomers could find hydrogen phosphate in the atmospheres of other rocky planets, “it would be a clear precursor to extraterrestrial life,” MIT scientists said in a press release.
Clara Sousa-Silva, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explains: “On Earth, oxygen is indeed an impressive sign of life. But besides life, everything produces oxygen. It is important to consider strange molecules that may not be produced very often, but if they do be found on another planet, there is only one explanation. “
Hydrogen phosphated hydrogen has been found in the atmospheres of gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn, as well as in gas jets ejected from comet 67/P visited by the Rosetta probe.
Sousa-Silva’s team spent years ruling out all possibilities that anything other than anaerobics could produce phosphated hydrogen. Their findings were published in the November issue of astrobiology.
“At some point, we are looking at increasingly unreasonable mechanisms, for example, if tectonic plates rub against each other, will there be no phosphating hydrogen?” Or if lightning strikes a place containing phosphorus or a meteor containing phosphorus, will it have an impact on the production of hydrogen phosphate? We’ve been through this process for years and found that nothing else can produce detectable amounts of phosphorus than life. “
They also found that if the amount of phosphoricosity produced in another world was similar to the amount of methane produced on Earth, the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope would detect phosphated hydrogen 16 light-years away. Researchers are studying their ways by assembling a database of “fingerprints” containing more than 16,000 other molecules to determine whether they may also be reliable signals of life.
“Even if some of these molecules are indeed weak beacons, if we can be sure that only life can send that signal, i feel like a gold mine, ” says Sousa-Silva. “