Researchers theorize how phosphine ended up in Venus’ atmosphere

Shane McGlaun - Sep 27, 2020, 10:02am CDT
Researchers theorize how phosphine ended up in Venus’ atmosphere

The recent discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus has researchers and space fans around the world excited. The reason people are so excited about the discovery is that phosphine hints that life may be present. However, when the phosphine was initially discovered, researchers were unable to explain how it got there.

Most of the phosphine in Earth’s atmosphere is produced by living microbes, meaning the possibility of life on Venus can’t be ignored. However, scientists also explored other conceivable possibilities for phosphine in the atmosphere, including lightning, volcanoes, and meteorites. None of those theories could produce the amount of phosphine detected in the Venusian atmosphere.

The head researcher on the project is an astronomer from the UK named Jane Greaves. She says that their discovery “is not robust evidence for life” on Venus. She says that the discovery of phosphine is “anomalous and unexplained chemistry,” noting that biological processes are just one possible origin. Much like Mars in the distant past, the surface of Venus is thought to have had lakes or even oceans of water and mild conditions.

Researchers say that if life did form eons ago, it could have adapted to spread in the clouds. Researchers also believe that another possibility to explain the phosphine is that life in the atmosphere of Venus, assuming there is any, came from Earth. Planets in the inner solar system have been documented to exchange materials in the past. For instance, when meteorites crash into a planet they can send rocks from that planet in the space where they occasionally interact with the orbits of other planets.

Researchers say that rocks from Earth may have contained microbial life that adapted to live in the highly acidic clouds in the Venusian atmosphere. There are known microbes on Earth able to live in highly acidic environments. Yet another possibility is that truly alien life does exist on Venus that’s able to survive the scorching 400-degree Celsius surface temperatures and thrives there today.


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