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Phosphine Discovery in Venus’ Atmosphere Raises the Big Question of Life

14 Sep 2020, 16:58 UTC
Phosphine Discovery in Venus’ Atmosphere Raises the Big Question of Life
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A close-up view of our “morning star” neighbor: reprocessed image of Venus captured February 7-8, 1974, by NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Today an international team of scientists led by Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in the UK announced the discovery of phosphine (PH3) in the atmosphere of our neighboring planet Venus — a detection made using data from ground-based telescopes located in Hawaii and Chile. On Earth, phosphine is created for industrial uses in labs and by certain bacteria that thrive in harsh environments lacking oxygen and, since there are no labs or factories on Venus, the question of what’s producing phosphine could have a biological answer.
“If no known chemical process can explain PH3 within the upper atmosphere of Venus, then it must be produced by a process not previously considered plausible for Venusian conditions. This could be unknown photochemistry or geochemistry, or possibly life.”
— Greaves, J.S., Richards, A.M.S., Bains, W. et al. Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus. Nat Astron (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-020-1174-4

This artistic representation shows a real image of Venus, taken with ALMA, in which ESO is a partner, with two superimposed spectra taken with ALMA (in white) and the James ...

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