4.4 Article

Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus


Volume 5, Issue 7, Pages 655-+


DOI: 10.1038/s41550-020-1174-4




  1. JCMT Service Program [S16BP007]
  2. ALMA Director's Discretionary Time programme [2018.A.00023.S]
  3. National Key R&D Program of China [2017YFA0402700]
  4. Science and Technology Facilities Council of the United Kingdom
  5. Cardiff
  6. Imperial College
  7. Open University
  8. STFC [ST/N000838/1]
  9. Radionet/MARCUs through ESO
  10. Japan Society for the Promotion of Science KAKENHI [16H02231]
  11. Heising-Simons Foundation
  12. Change Happens Foundation
  13. Simons Foundation [495062]
  14. Simons Foundation (SCOL award) [59963]
  15. European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme [730562]
  16. STFC [ST/N000692/1, ST/S000372/1, ST/S00033X/1, ST/R001464/1, ST/P000827/1, ST/M007790/1, ST/N000838/1] Funding Source: UKRI

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Measurements of phosphine gas in Venus's atmosphere have been reported, with the presence of the gas currently unexplained. Possible origins include unknown photochemical or geochemical processes, or even the presence of life, resembling the biological production of phosphine on Earth. Further research is needed to investigate the sources and nature of this gas on Venus.
Measurements of trace gases in planetary atmospheres help us explore chemical conditions different to those on Earth. Our nearest neighbour, Venus, has cloud decks that are temperate but hyperacidic. Here we report the apparent presence of phosphine (PH3) gas in Venus's atmosphere, where any phosphorus should be in oxidized forms. Single-line millimetre-waveband spectral detections (quality up to similar to 15 sigma) from the JCMT and ALMA telescopes have no other plausible identification. Atmospheric PH(3)at similar to 20 ppb abundance is inferred. The presence of PH(3)is unexplained after exhaustive study of steady-state chemistry and photochemical pathways, with no currently known abiotic production routes in Venus's atmosphere, clouds, surface and subsurface, or from lightning, volcanic or meteoritic delivery. PH(3)could originate from unknown photochemistry or geochemistry, or, by analogy with biological production of PH(3)on Earth, from the presence of life. Other PH(3)spectral features should be sought, while in situ cloud and surface sampling could examine sources of this gas.


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