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Strange Venus Find May Not Be Sign of Life

Researchers say phosphine could be a sign planet is volcanically active
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 14, 2021 1:51 PM CDT
Updated Jul 17, 2021 5:05 PM CDT

(Newser) – A tantalizing find detected in the clouds of Venus last year may not be a sign of life after all, researchers say. The gas phosphine is usually associated with biological life on Earth and scientists said last year that it was "astonishing" to find it on Venus. Researchers at Cornell University, however, say the chemical could be a sign that parts of Venus are extremely volcanically active, the New Scientist reports. In a study published in the journal PNAS, the researchers say phosphorus deep in the planet's mantle could be brought to the surface and ejected into the atmosphere by volcanic eruptions. The phosphides would then react with thick clouds of sulfuric acid to produce the chemical, researchers say.

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Study co-author Jonathan Lunine says that while we don't know for certain that Venus is volcanically active, volcanoes are a far more likely explanation for the gas than life in the planet's extremely harsh atmosphere. "Unfortunately, we’re sitting here with these little hints of volcanism from all these pieces of circumstantial evidence, phosphine included," he says. "We don’t know what Venus is capable of." A separate study last month determined that the amount of water in the planet's atmosphere was far too low to support even the hardiest of the microbes found in Earth's atmosphere, Space.com reports. Evidence of volcanic activity will be among the things NASA will look for in its first missions to the planet in decades.

(Read more Venus stories.)

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