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Phosphine on Venus Triggers Possibility of Life on the Planet

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Zareen Afridi
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Research findings by the astronomers of NASA have hinted at the possibility of life on Venus after traces of Phosphine gas were identified on the planet. Independent research on the chemistry of Venus was published in the Science magazine, Nature Astronomy which shows strong indication of the life-supporting gas on the surface of the planet.

Venus is the second closest planet to the Sun and its temperature is 740 K. Despite this, it is compared with Earth due to numerous similarities. The pressure is 93 bar which is what you might expect on the surface of Earth after going 900 metres deep into the sea. Also, the gravity of Venus is only 91% of that of Earth. That means one can jump a bit higher on Venus and objects would feel lighter. It is the brightest planet in the Solar System which can be easily spotted in the sunset sky. The similarities between Earth and Venus in terms of size and mass often tout them as twin planets. 

The study regarding Venus has been long in process, the first research to happen to be in the 1980s. At that time, Soviet Vega, a Russian invasion had identified phosphorus like a chemical but the studies could not be brought to a conclusion due to lack of reliable and efficient apparatus to work on. The scientific world had not advanced then and this research was left incomplete.

Then again a newer attempt happened in 2017 with the help of the much advanced, highly reliable James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. The results of this attempt took three long years to come out and were published recently, on 14th September 2020. 

Phosphine is a common gas present on the surface of the Earth. It is a nauseating gas that combines one atom of Phosphorus with three atoms of Oxygen (PH3). Venus is known to have a very dense atmosphere, laden with clouds of carbon dioxide and some amount of sulphuric acid. Since the atmosphere is so dense, it absorbs heat from the sun immensely and roasts up to soaring high temperature. Any living organism on Earth cannot survive on Venus in these conditions. Then how can a possibility of Phosphine associate life on the bright planet?

The answer is, only anaerobic bacteria can survive in these harsh conditions. The anaerobic atmosphere is when oxygen is absent and is a vacuum-like situation. The high temperature and pressure are feasible to break the bounded oxygen into unbound oxygen. So there is a stark possibility that these bacteria can develop and mature to give birth to live on the rare planet. Still, the result is not plausible enough for human life to breathe on Venus, where even one of the strongest metal of Earth, lead, melts. 

The story of life erupting on Venus mimics the story of Earth as well. Billions of years ago, the young earth did not have the present oxygen levels, yet the anaerobic life thrived there. It took 2.3 billion years for Earth to reach this level where a variety of fauna and flora have developed over the years. The same can be inferred for Venus but it will take more years and a closer approach to find concrete proofs.

Another fallacy that should also be considered is that natural rocks and minerals like quartz, clay, calcite and mica dissolve in mineral acid. This acid rain can occur due to bolts of lightning and electrical discharges in the sky which are often observed in Venus’ sky. These acid rains react with the metallic gases suspended in Venus’s atmosphere to produce ersatz phosphine, often not the real phosphine. This can lead to a probability if tge observations so made are for the real phosphine gas or not. The telescopes are built to diagnose and recognise known gases but if the gases so released are cloning phosphine then the possibility of life can be nullified. Furthermore, these result findings are released aftrr a span of three years after observing the phenomena for the first time. If in these three years, massive changes had occurred on Venus’ surface, which, is sure a possibility, then also the phosphine presence can be questioned.

What is the real need of the hour is to develop better apparatus, devices and reliable technology which can provide accurate and quicker results so that predictions can be fast assessed and which can lead to more trustworthy findings. If phosphine can be a catalyst for life at the planet is still debatable and still requires years of modern approach for it to clear the air.

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