An international team of astronomers has made a recent announcement about the possible sign of life on the planet Venus. This was following the discovery of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus on Monday which has triggered global excitement about the possibility of the presence of lifeforms on the neighbouring planet.
Phosphine is a molecule made of one Phosphorus atom attached to three hydrogen atoms. Apart from being produced in industrial processes, phosphine, a colourless but smelly gas, is known to be made only by some species of bacteria that survive in the absence of oxygen.
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, thousands to millions of times more than what could otherwise be expected.
Being a rocky planet, there is not much explanation other than this as to the presence of the molecule on the planet, unlike Jupiter and Saturn which have extreme depths and several reactions.
The abstract to their paper in Nature Astronomy says this presence of phosphine is “unexplained” after an exhaustive study of all the possible other sources and “production routes in Venus’s atmosphere, clouds, surface and subsurface, or from lightning, volcanic or meteorite delivery”.
So, the only possible explanation for the origin of this phosphine, based on our current knowledge, could be in the biological processes, the way it is produced on Earth, by some microbes.
However, no one is confirming that as of now. What scientists have discovered is the presence of a chemical which is known to be produced only through biological process, and not through any naturally occurring chemical process. There are some other ways in which this chemical might be produced, for example, in the underbelly of volcanoes or meteorite activity, but that would have shown in much lower concentrations. In any case, scientists have ruled out all those kinds of known possibilities which could be attributed for the presence of that gas.
As a matter of fact, this discovery was made in 2017, and the scientists have checked and re-checked their data over the last three years before deciding to make it public.
During an announcement on Monday, scientists were very careful to emphasise, repeatedly, that this was not a confirmation of the presence of life on Venus. The discovery has brought amongst the people a new wave of hope and excitement for the presence of life in our immediately neighbouring planet.