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Venus Phosphine Detection Fact Sheet

14 Sep 2020, 21:54 UTC
Venus Phosphine Detection Fact Sheet
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Artist’s impression of Venus, with an inset showing a representation of the phosphine molecules detected in the high cloud decks. (Credit: ESO / M. Kornmesser / L. Calçada & NASA / JPL / Caltech)

Royal Astronomical SocietyFact Sheet

On 14 September 2020, astronomers announced the detection of phosphine, a potential biomarker, in the atmosphere of Venus. Here are ten essential facts about the discovery:

What has been discovered?

A molecule called phosphine has been detected in the atmosphere of the planet Venus.

Why is it interesting?

The amount of phosphine that has been detected is relatively large. On Earth, phosphine can result from natural processes such as lightning and volcanic activity, but only in small amounts. The only known processes that produce phosphine on Earth in similar quantities are biological in origin.

Does that mean there is life on Venus?

No. What’s exciting is that this is the first detection of a possible sign of life for which we have no plausible alternative explanation. That doesn’t mean that there definitely is life, as we could be missing some other method of producing phosphine in the required amounts, but it’s a very exciting possibility which needs more investigation.

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