What are 3 scientific traits on Venus

No life in the glowing hell

There is phosphane on Venus. The trivalent hydrogen phosphine, called "phosphine" in English, is apparently in the dense and gapless cloud cover of our neighboring planet. This is what a working group led by astronomer Jane Greaves from Cardiff University in the UK reported in the magazine Nature Astronomy. The first big question that now arises: How did it get there? The second: Should the chemical compound even be an indication of extraterrestrial life?

The reason for this speculation is that the earth is considered a twin of Venus and that some microbes on earth emit phosphane as a result of their metabolism. Living beings on our neighboring planet would truly be a discovery of considerable significance.

This article is featured in Spectrum - The Week, 38/2020

But with regard to Venus, it can be said: That should hardly be the case. The venerable British astronomers' association, the Royal Astronomical Society, may have spoken of a "groundbreaking result" even before it was published.

In fact, the study by the researchers led by the British Greaves gives little cause for such speculations. In the technical article, the international team of authors only works out how difficult it is to explain the phosphane in the clouds of Venus.

The clouds drift at a height of about 50 to 70 kilometers and, according to current knowledge, consist mainly of fine droplets of concentrated sulfuric acid. They also contain all sorts of suspended matter, the composition of which has not yet been clarified in detail. And just phosphane. The compound should actually react chemically with the sulfuric acid and the solid sulfur particles in the cloud cover and thus degrade quickly. It occurs only in tiny amounts on Venus, as the observations with the James Clerk Maxwell on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the ALMA observatory of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) show. There are just 20 PH molecules for every billion molecules in the atmosphere3, Experts speak of a concentration of 20 ppb (English: parts per billion).

So there must be a previously unknown source of the substance. Standard explanations are ruled out here, the authors of the current study state: According to them, the puzzling gas traces cannot be explained by chemical interactions with the surface, nor by lightning strikes, meteorids or volcanic eruptions. The scientists therefore suspect that previously unknown substances must be present in the cloud cover, from which small amounts of phosphane can be produced through chemical reactions.