Discovery of Phosphine in Venus Atmosphere


Key Details

  • Recently, Scientists have detected in the harshly acidic clouds of Venus a gas called phosphine that indicates microbes may inhabit Earth’s inhospitable neighbor, a tantalizing sign of potential life beyond Earth.
  • The researchers did not discover actual life forms, but noted that on Earth phosphine is produced by bacteria thriving in oxygen-starved environments.
  • A team of scientists have reported traces of phosphine in a concentration of approximately 20 parts per billion. Scientists have been careful to emphasise, that as of now, this is no confirmation of the presence of life on Venus.

Back to Basics

About Phosphine Gas

  • Phosphine is a colorless, flammable, very toxic gas compound with the chemical formula PH3, classed as a pnictogen hydride.
  • Apart from being produced in industrial processes, phosphine, is known to be made only by some species of bacteria that survive in the absence of oxygen.
  • Phosphine – a phosphorus atom with three hydrogen atoms attached – is highly toxic to people.


  • “PH3 (phosphene) could originate from unknown photochemistry or geochemistry, or, by analogy with biological production of PH3 on earth, from the presence of life.”

About Venus

  • Venus is Earth’s closest planetary neighbour.
  • Similar in structure but slightly smaller than Earth, it is the second planet from the sun. Earth is the third.
  • Venus is wrapped in a thick, toxic atmosphere that traps in heat.
  • Surface temperatures reach a scorching 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), hot enough to melt lead.
  • Venus should be hostile to phosphine. Its surface and atmosphere are rich in oxygen compounds that would rapidly react with and destroy phosphine.

Key Facts:

  • On Earth, microorganisms in “anaerobic” environments – ecosystems that do not rely on oxygen – produce phosphine. These include sewage plants, swamps, rice fields, marshlands, lake sediments and the excrements and intestinal tracts of many animals. Phosphine also arises non-biologically in certain industrial settings.
  • To produce phosphine, Earth bacteria take up phosphate from minerals or biological material and add hydrogen.

Source: Indian Express

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