Searching the possibility of life outside the Earth has always been one of the objectives of Astronomers around the world. Recently scientists have discovered something that might suggest the possibility of live on Venus, the planet that is not so far away from us. On September 14, 2020, Venus was added to the list of potentially habitable worlds in the solar system after scientist discovered phosphine gas in the middle layer of the Venus atmosphere. What is Phosphine gas? How does it indicate the possibility of life on Venus? This post will answer these questions.

Also check out this amazing post related to gravitational waves and the exploration of the universe https://www.geniuserc.com/gravitational-waves-exploring-the-universe-in-a-new-way/

What is Phosphine?

Phosphine (IUPAC name: phosphane) is a colorless, flammable, very toxic gas compound with the chemical formula PH3, classed as a pnictogen hydride. Pure phosphine is odourless, but technical grade samples have a highly unpleasant odour like rotting fish, due to the presence of substituted phosphine and diphosphane (P2H4). With traces of P2H4 present, PH3 is spontaneously flammable in air (pyrophoric), burning with a luminous flame.

Phosphine-phosphine on venus

In other words, phosphine is a toxic gas made up of one phosphorus and three hydrogen atoms (PH3), commonly produced by organic life forms but otherwise difficult to make on rocky planets. Used as a chemical weapon during World War I, phosphine is still manufactured as an agricultural fumigant, is used in the semiconductor industry, and is a nasty byproduct of meth labs. Phosphine is also made naturally by some species of anaerobic bacteria—organisms that live in the oxygen-starved environments of landfills, marshlands, and even animal guts.

How does it indicate possibility of life?

Earlier this year, researchers suggested that finding the chemical on other terrestrial planets could indicate the presence of alien metabolisms, and they suggested aiming the sharpest telescopes of the future at faraway exoplanets to probe their atmospheres for signs of the gas. As they said, scientists discovered phosphine in the Venus atmosphere that might indicate the presence of life forms in Venus.

As discussed above, phosphine is related to life as it can be produced by organic life forms. Phosphine is barely produced by any other means in rocky planets like Earth and Venus. This raises the tantalizing possibility that something is alive on our planetary neighbor. With this discovery, Venus joins the exalted ranks of Mars and the icy moons Enceladus and Europa among planetary bodies where life may once have existed, or perhaps might even still do so today.

However, there are also some other ways that can produce phosphine. Lightning, falling of meteorites and comets, volcanic eruptions are also phenomena that produce this gas. Lightning does occur on Venus, and may produce trace amounts of PH3, the team found that lightning didn’t occur often enough and wasn’t efficient at producing PH3. Actually, it produced 10,000,000 times less than the quantity detected.

surface of venus

Similarly, there’s not nearly enough material on meteorites to provide the amount of phosphine detected. Also there’s no evidence of a large impact in Venus’s recent history. Another remaining possibility for producing phosphine are the volcanoes. There are indeed volcanoes on Venus, and they can produce phosphine. But to get near the quantity that’s observed, Venus would have to be 200 times more volcanically active than Earth, and we see no evidence of that.

Are there really Aliens on Venus?

Discovering phosphine gas doesn’t necessarily indicate there are aliens on Venus. The universe is full of mysteries and unknown things. Therefore, there might be possibility of some unknown chemical reaction occurring on Venus atmosphere producing phosphine gas. Furthermore, there is always question regarding the reliability of data.

Venus is yet to be fully explored and in the long run we might be able to unfold the reason behind the presence of phosphine in the Venus atmosphere. There are obviously going to be more researches and space programs targeted to Venus and other planets. Maybe someday we might find out that we are not the only living beings in this universe.

Conclusion

To sum up, phosphine shouldn’t be within the Venusian atmosphere. It’s extremely hard to form , and therefore the chemistry within the clouds should destroy the molecule before it can accumulate to the observed amounts. But it’s too early to conclude that life exists on Venus. Scientists caution that the detection itself must be verified, because the phosphine fingerprint described within the study might be a false signal introduced by the telescopes or by processing .

If phosphine really is floating through the Venusian cloud deck, its presence suggests two intriguing possibilities: that alien life-forms are deftly linking together phosphorus and hydrogen atoms, or that some completely unanticipated chemistry is crafting phosphine in absence of life.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post. Do you think there is life on Venus? Feel free to comment your thoughts.

Do visit this link to learn more about possibility of life on Venus https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/09/possible-sign-of-life-found-on-venus-phosphine-gas/

By Nishchal Poudel

Nishchal is currently studying Bachelor in Aerospace Engineering at IOE Pulchowk Campus, Nepal.

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