About 30 years ago, Phosphine (PH3) was detected in Jupiter and Saturn. Its presence at notable levels reflects both the strength of convective transport as a disequilibrium species and the deep abundance of phosphorus. On Jupiter, PH3 has a solar value but is enriched over solar value by a factor of 5. Scientists expected the same on Uranus and Neptune but Phosphine has not been detected yet in these icy giants. However, our neighbors Mars and Venus have just vaulted into one of the contentious debates in astrobiology.
On 14th September 2020, a team of astronomers found evidence that the cloud tops of Venus contain traces of phosphine- a toxic gas that is produced by microbial life on Earth. This discovery has led to various mysteries because no known non-biological processes can create phosphine in the conditions found on Venus. It raises a question that is the alien life harboring in the weird and mysterious clouds of the hellish world. The researchers who discovered this sought to project a mix of both enthusiasm and restrain when they announced their find during a zoom presence conference on Monday. Jane Greaves, an astronomer at Cardiff University who led the observations during the conference
A few minutes later, MIT planetary scientist Sara Seager emphasized a few minutes later,
This discovery has put a spotlight on the prospect of life in the Venusian clouds, which once used to be a fringe idea. Moreover, the detection of mysterious phosphine in the clouds of Venus has already spurred more research and unofficial proposals about how future Venus missions could hunt for more signs of Asian life.
Bethany Ehlam, a planetary scientist who was not the part of discovery exclaimed,
“What’s exciting about the phosphine discovery is that it demands to follow up. The top three destinations to look for life in Solar System are Mars, Enceladus, and Europa- and now we should perhaps add Venus to the list.”
Earlier, the scientists had discovered the surface of Venus to be hot enough to melt lead but that was before when Scientists discovered how extreme Venus is. The clouds of the Venus planet are made of sulfuric acid which made astrobiologist David Grinspoon declare “Venus had kind of almost been forgotten about.”
However, in recent years, the notion of Venusian life has made a mysterious comeback. The next obvious step by NASA and its Russian counterparts is sending a robotic probe to have a magnifying look. The U.S. space agency was already considering going forward with two Venus missions, which could be modified to look for phosphine or detect the presence of alien organisms. Mr. Yuri Mmilnar who owns a privately funded organization has already enlisted a team of top scientists to study ways to pull off a near-term Venus exploration mission.
Presently, the team of scientists said in an interview, “ All we can 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.”
What kind of life? It’s still a mystery. Around four billion years ago, Venus, Earth, and Mars were formed from a good chunk of rock and have many similarities including moderate temperatures. So, it is possible life exists on Venus too. However, the presence of phosphine gas is due to the presence of microorganisms or some alienated life is still to be discovered.
In recent years, scientists have found various evidence indicating the presence of life. However, the mystery is how do scientists detect if the planets are harboring life. In order to detect this, scientists determine what features indicate that life is present. After researching for many years, scientists have found a way- traces of simple forms of life known as biosignatures. Before this mystery of planet Venus, the hunt for life on the red planet was going on. Two of the spacecraft were launched by UAE and China named Al-Amal and Taiwan to discover life on the planet. The third one is launched by NASA’s Mars 2020 which took off from Florida. The red planet was only chosen as a result of the planetary dynamics. Every year or two, the orbits of Mars and Earth align such that both the planets are closer to each year and 2020 was such a year. Next, a successful launch could be done in the year 2022. Another biggest mystery of the red planet is- There are pieces of evidence of the presence of water on the red planet but it vanished all of sudden leaving the world with the question- Is (or was) their life on the red planetAnother such topic of scientist’s interest of 2020 was the study published in Nature Geoscience which suggested that Pluto has had a warm interior ever since it formed, and may still have a liquid, internal ocean under its icy crust. This study paved the way to the fact that other sizable icy planets may have had early internal oceans too. This attracted the interest of planetary scientists as the presence of warm water indicated the possibility of life on Pluto.
The discoveries in planetary astronomy are endless. A new discovery is made almost every day in the lives of planetary scientists. The studies on various discoveries are going on and there are many facts which are still left to be unrevealed.By: Ishita