- 18 Oct 2020
Venus has always been compared to women and femininity, and like it has been called, recently Venus has found to have hints of life on it just like a woman is capable of carrying a life. We always have had atmospheric models that show that Venus once had as much water as Earth does. This discovery sure has opened new doors of possibilities within the Solar System.
The NASA researchers have found the presence of Phosphine, a possible “biosignature” on Venus which indicates that there might be some possibility of life there. In the Nature Astronomy journal, a paper regarding the Chemistry on Venus was published. Phosphine is a colourless, flammable, very toxic gas compound with the chemical formula PH₃. But how does the mere presence of a gas signify the possibility of some life?
On Earth, the major source of production of Phosphine is said to be the anaerobic bacteria which live in environments which have oxygen in very low amounts such as landfills, sewers, or even gut of animals. Apart from that, industrial processes produce it. Ruling out its chemical production, anaerobic bacteria is the source, hence giving the astronomical people hopes of lives on that planet.
However, the temperature of the surface of Venus is said to be as high as 470 degree Celsius which is too hot to hold any life, and is hot enough to melt lead and zinc into puddles.
More than 4 billion years ago, Venus, Earth and Mars were formed, and for a large amount of time earlier, these planets had many similarities which also included medium temperatures due to which the water could remain as liquid on the surface, giving a possibility that life existed on all these three planets several billion years ago.
However, Venus is very near to the Sun, and with time, the Sun grew hotter leading to the planet’s oceans getting boiled away eventually. Due to that, the Carbon Dioxide which was previously dissolved in the ocean now spread across the atmosphere causing runaway greenhouse effect, which proved to be dangerous for Venus. Also, the planet is covered by a thick layer of Sulphuric acid clouds (result of ongoing volcanic activity), hence causing Venus to be the hottest planet in our solar system.
A Venus advocate Darby Dyar, planetary scientist at Mount Holyoke College and the chair of the Venus advisory committee for NASA said, “Venus probably had oceans before Earth did. It had plenty of time for life to evolve — potentially into complex organisms. It’s not out of the question that the rocks of Venus have fossils”. “There are atmospheric models that show that Venus had as much water as Earth and had it in fact earlier”, she said.
“All we can say is we have a confident detection of phosphine gas at 20 parts per billion coming from 50 to 60 kilometers from the surface, where the temperatures are not too hot, not too cold, but just right for life,” said Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at MIT who is leading the Breakthrough study and is also a co-author of the paper in Nature Astronomy that announced the detection of phosphine.
The amount of Phosphine found is too large to be produced by natural chemical processes like eruption of volcanoes, sunlight and lightning. Mechanisms other than these could produce ten-thousandth of this amount of Phosphine at most. But there can be some unknown natural processes like photochemistry or geochemistry than can produce this amount of the gas. Hence to prove that this much phosphine is formed by bacteria indeed, more work is needed.
However, scientists say that even if these forms of life exist, if they exist at all, they are not going to comprise of intelligent being capable of building canals or of animals that populate alien jungles. Most scientists expect these life forms to come in the form of fairly simple organisms. But still, their discovery would have enormous repercussions indeed.
NASA has released the following announcement related to the discovery. "A paper about chemistry on Venus was recently published in Nature Astronomy. NASA was not involved in the research and cannot comment directly on the findings; however, we trust in the scientific peer review process and look forward to the robust discussion that will follow its publication." The findings are linked to Nature astronomy, an online, peer reviewed, scientific journal published by the Nature Publishing Group, owned by Springer Nature.