A new study found that the mysterious smell of an unstable chemical in the sky of Venus may not be a sign of life, but the result of a volcanic eruption.
Last year, scientists reported that signs of phosphine molecules were detected in the clouds of the second solar rock. This chemical substance composed of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms should quickly decompose in an oxygen-rich atmosphere, such as the atmosphere on Earth and Venus.
On earth, phosphine is manufactured in factories and exists near certain types of microorganisms. Therefore, the researchers proposed that in a controversial hypothesis, the phosphine on Venus may be a hint of life in that hell world. One opposition questioned whether phosphine was actually seen, while the other argued whether life was the only possible source of phosphine on Venus.
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Now, a couple of planetary scientists say that volcanic eruptions can also spray phosphine into the atmosphere of Venus. “We may be witnessing active volcanic activity on Venus,” Ngoc Truong, a planetary scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, the lead author of the study, told Space.com.
To understand whether there is a non-biological explanation for the presence of phosphine in the sky of Venus, the researchers analyzed laboratory data on phosphorus chemistry, as well as calculations of volcanic and atmospheric activity.
Scientists have discovered that volcanic activity on Venus may bring a small amount of phosphorus-rich compounds (called phosphides) from the depths of the planet’s mantle to the surface. Explosive volcanic eruptions may spray these phosphides into the atmosphere in the form of volcanic dust, where the chemical reacts with sulfuric acid to form phosphine.
In order to make the phosphide reach the height required for the above-mentioned phosphine detection, the researchers suggested that the scale of the Venus eruption is comparable to that of the Krakatau volcano on Earth in 1883. The disaster was one of the volcanic events. The deadliest and most destructive on record on earth, destroying more than 70% of the Indonesian island of Krakatau and surrounding archipelago.
“Whether Venus has volcanic activity has always been a controversial issue,” Truong said. “If phosphine does exist, our work suggests that active volcanic activity may be a reasonable way to produce phosphine on Venus.”
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Scientists pointed out that previous studies, such as the peak of sulfur dioxide level in the cloud tops of Venus and the fluctuation of haze above these clouds, they believe that Venus may indeed have enough sustained volcanic activity to produce detectable phosphine.
“Venus looks like a volcanic planet-its surface is very young, and there is evidence that it has recently experienced a substantial renaissance in its history,” the lead research author and planetary scientist Jonathan Lu of Cornell University Ning told Space.com. .
Future research will build on the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio array in Chile and other observatories to confirm whether Venus does possess phosphine, Truong said. In addition, “There are now three very exciting planetary missions to Venus,” Lunie points out: DAVINCI+ and VERITAS from NASA and EnVision from the European Space Agency. “I want to find a way to detect active volcanic activity and phosphine in any of these tasks.”
Truong and Lunine detailed their findings online on July 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

By Peter

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