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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Discovery of phosphine in Venus atmosphere triggers excitement over possible presence of life forms

In a paper published in Nature Astronomy, a team of scientists have reported traces of phosphine in a concentration of approximately 20 parts per billion.

Written by Amitabh Sinha | Pune | Updated: September 14, 2020 9:46:07 pm
Venus, Venus planet, life on Venus, life on planet Venus, phosphene in Venus atmosphere, Tech news, Indian ExpressThe presence of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus is something that was not expected and is "unexplained. (Source: European Southern Observatory)

An international team of astronomers has announced the finding of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus, triggering excitement about the possibility of presence of life forms on that planet.

Apart from being produced in industrial processes, phosphine, a colourless, smelly gas, is known to be made only by some species of bacteria that survive in the absence of oxygen. The presence of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus is something that was not expected and is “unexplained”. Any presence of phosphorus in that atmosphere was expected to be in oxidised forms.

In a paper published in Nature Astronomy, a team of scientists have reported traces of phosphine in a concentration of approximately 20 parts per billion. Scientists have been careful to emphasise, that as of now, this is no confirmation of the presence of life on Venus. It could be getting produced by natural processes that we, as of now, are not aware of.

“PH3 (phosphene) could originate from unknown photochemistry or geochemistry, or, by analogy with biological production of PH3 on earth, from the presence of life.”

But as Professor Sara Seager of the Department of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is one of the authors of the study, this discovery had raised Venus “higher up on the ladder of interesting targets” where the possible presence of life forms can be explored.

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