According to a new study, a mysterious fragrance of an unstable chemical in the skies of Venus could be the product of explosive volcanic eruptions rather than a sign of life. Scientists discovered traces of the chemical phosphine in the clouds of the second rock from the sun last year. The molecule, made up of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms, should degrade swiftly in oxygen-rich atmospheres like those found on Earth and Venus.
On Earth, phosphine is produced in factories and is found near some bacteria. As a result, experts hypothesized that phosphine on could be a sign of life in that hellish world, a controversial theory. One side of the discussion questions if phosphine was seen, while the other considers whether life is the sole probable source of phosphine on Venus.
Volcanism on Venus might potentially transfer modest amounts of phosphorus-loaded molecules known as phosphides from deep inside the planet’s mantle layer to the surface, according to the researchers. Explosive volcanic eruptions may then hurl these phosphides into the atmosphere in the form of volcanic dust, where they could mix with sulfuric acid to generate phosphine.The researchers hypothesized that a Venus outburst on the scale of the Krakatau eruption on Earth in 1883 would be required for phosphides to reach the altitudes needed for the previously reported phosphine discovery.