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Phosphine discovery in Venus

Date: 15 September 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

Deep within the acidic clouds of Venus, astronomers have detected a unique gas never found on the planet before. The gas, Phosphine is an important sign of biological activity.

 

Background

The gas’ presence isn’t enough to say for sure that Venus hosts life forms, but the fact that it exists in the planet’s clouds indicates that biological activity may be present.

 

Details

  • Astronomers discovered the putrid gas lurking within a layer of clouds on Venus, where temperatures are pretty close to those on our planet.

  • Phosphine it is manufactured artificially by humans, into products like fumigants or biological weapons, or it is a natural by-product of life. Phosphine can be found in swamps and marshlands, where it’s thought to be produced by microbes. It can also be found in the guts of animals.

  • It is a gas that is almost exclusively associated with life on Earth, raising the possibility that it could be a sign of microbes floating in the Venusian clouds.

  • An international team of researchers, tried as hard as they could to come up with other explanations for the gas they found on Venus.

  • They modelled things like lightning strikes and meteors bombarding the planet’s surface to see if such phenomena could produce the amount of phosphine they’ve seen.

  • Venus is a barren wasteland, surrounded by a thick carbon dioxide atmosphere. Temperatures can soar to nearly 900 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface, hot enough to melt lead (and most spacecraft).

  • Heavy clouds swirling around the planet are made of droplets of sulphuric acid that are so acidic, pH scale are unable to measure them.

  • Still, astronomers have considered the possibility of life forms surviving in this unmerciful place, specifically in the planet’s cloud tops.

  • Finding hard evidence for life on a harsh world like Venus poses a particular challenge. Some probes sent to Venus have actually melted while plunging to the surface, and none have turned up any evidence for life just yet.

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