Phosphine in Clouds of Venus Could Be Signs of Life

Phosphine Gas is in the atmosphere of Venus at 20 parts per billion and no non-biological path to explain the Phosphine.

There are no currently known abiotic production routes in Venus’s atmosphere, clouds, surface and subsurface, or from lightning, volcanic or meteoritic delivery.

It is either unknown photochemistry or geochemistry or there is some kind of life in the atmosphere of Venus.

The surface of Venus is deadly to life with a lot of acid, pressures and high temperature. At 55 km (34 mi) altitude on Venus, the atmosphere of Venus is 27 °C (81 °F) and 0.5 bar (50 kPa). 0.5 bar is half the pressure of Earth at sea level and is the equivalent pressure at an elevation of about 5,500 m (18,000 ft) on Earth.

Asteroids have been hitting the Earth for billions of years. So small bits of rock with life from Earth could easily travel to Venus and seed the upper atmosphere. Venus at 34 miles if very hospitable for life.

Some high altitude probe will need to be sent to Venus to determine if there is life or what processes are creating the Phosphine.

There have been NASA proposals to send small drone airships to Venus.

SOURCES- Nature Astronomy – Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus, NASA
Written By Brian Wang,

41 thoughts on “Phosphine in Clouds of Venus Could Be Signs of Life”

  1. Will any sort of balloon work well on Titan? On Earth balloons use some sort of flexible material to hold the lifting gas. Is there anything thing that is suitably flexible at the temperatures near the surface of Titan, which we could use? Earth balloons often use rubber coated material. I recall seeing some rubber object cooled with liquid nitrogen, shattering like glass when hit.

  2. Wow. She actually seems to sound rational, in a few places, until you realize that if her viewpoint had dominated human history we would all be living in caves in a small part of Africa and arguing over whether or not long term use of fire was more dangerous than helpful.

    Alternatively, with the same viewpoint, starting from right now, we would all be living on subsistence farms with composting toilets, raising the next generation pretty much exactly as we were raised by the generation we were burying. We would keep on doing this until the Earth becomes uninhabitable about a billion or so years from now.

    Where's the fun in any of that? Some people would find this more depressing than her "road trips in space." Besides, we will have automation to take care of the boring parts and, seriously, I expect we won't make any really big presence off Earth until mainstream members of humanity are already largely inorganic in nature.

    For bonus points, she would probably have us spend a lot of time staring at our navels and chanting or going to church. She is a theological writer for a theological publication and has a master's degree in theology with an emphasis on gospel. If she has any qualifications for writing about about anything touching on science, other than those a mildly precocious eight year old might have, I found no record of them. She also thinks she is an expert on politics and the military with about the same level of justification.

  3. Probably some inorganic process, given our limited knowledge of phosphine. But let's consider.

    Surface pressure similar to over half a mile deep in our oceans. Coupled with a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead, life on the surface, or even under it, seems a poor bet.

    Yet Venus could have been quite habitable up until just three quarters of a billion years ago. Before that, life could have originated on either just one (Earth or Venus), or upon both (or even on Mars), and been carried hither and yon and back again by asteroids. Who knows what acceleration effects on evolution this might have had, especially given the high radiation conditions on Venus.

    This sounds so weird and unlikely that, if it were true, and if it turned out this was actually necessary to arrive at us (before the Earth becomes uninhabitable itself in another billion years or so), then it may even go a long way towards explaining the Fermi Paradox.

    We know that something whacked into Venus so hard (in the same general time-frame that it stopped being habitable), that it actually eliminated pretty much all preexisting surface terrain (and maybe is why the planet spins backwards).

     Give the fecundity of life, however, it doesn't seem entirely impossible that something already adapted to living high up in the atmosphere might have survived, adapted, and continued to eke out an existence ever since.

  4. A breathable O2 N2 mix is definitely preferable for a habitat in the Venus atmosphere. It gives more living space for the humans occupying it. For an uncrewed Venus airship H2 is better because the mass of material for the gas bag will be minimized.

  5. Sulfuric acid is pretty darned hygroscopic. But maybe more to the point: H2SO4. There's your hydrogen.

    Can life exist using 'oil of vitrol' as it's solvent? Maybe.

  6. I'm not the expert, but bacteria *on* Earth float by having long thin "hairs" so much that they are now seen as rain nuclei, rather than primarily pollen as had been thought.

  7. This is where Nasa's fondness for gold plating things actually starts to make sense. In a normal atmosphere, a thin layer of aluminum would be all you'd need for protection from that UV. In an atmosphere with UV and sulfuric acid? Probably want to plate that gas bag with a noble metal.

    Technically, though, if you made the bag out of Kynar, it would be both acid AND UV resistant, and would laugh at radiation, too.

  8. I made a pitch that O₂ and N₂ would be just as good, at least for manned semi-permanent probes and research stations. See my comments elsewhere.

  9. But, but… OK, true. 

    CO₂ here on Planet Dirt tho' is the primary foodstuff and 'breath-able' of plants. So, maybe not animals, but photosynthesizing plant-things.  With bladders filled with oxygen gas, which is lighter than CO₂.  Intermediate photosynthesis chemicals could be sequestered, should a floating leaf discover it is dropping rapidly, and needs to make more oxygen to stay levitated.  Likewise, if it rises too far, the equivalent of 'stomata' would solve the get-rid-of-oxygen-now problem. The biggest 'however' though is the lack of water, which by many estimates, is crucial to powering the photochemistry of life.  

    Seems a bit far fetched.  

    The presence of traces of PH₃ tho', does suggest a supply-source of H₂, to combine with the produced O₂ of photosynthesis.  Talk about 'DUNE' like crazy-must-keep-H₂O!!! situation.  Wow.

    ⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  10. … "aside from acid clouds" … and apart from that how did you enjoy the opera, Mrs. Lincoln?

    Made my laugh-meter wiggle, that. ⊕1 back at you. 

    I'm pretty convinced that aerostats are the way to go. large gas bags wrapped in tough-tough-tough meshes to limit expansion with rise-in-atmosphere, eventually pressurizing enough to allow a free-floating more-or-less constant isobar vessel. Might actually go up and down quite a bit with heating, 'weather' and so on.  But still pretty well tamed.  

    The idea of multi-layered is that you'd want to use the thinnest film that's reasonable time-stable against those acids and intense UV from Sol. However, such films make terrible aerostats.  

    Wrapped (conceptually) in carbon-fiber 'stockings' with modestly small perforation spacing, Now the films can pressurize. Wrapping that in another layer of carbon fiber netting, akin to commercial fishing nets, allows for higher pressure differentials, still.  And wrapping that will rather stout 'rope-like' cordage gives the final pressure handling.  

    INSIDE the bags would be hundreds of solar-powered, little 'bag climbers' that'd repair leaks.  Punctures, rips, whatever.  Apply film, let UV harden the glue, and keep moving. 

    Why not?  It doesn't take an AI Genius Brain to solve this mundane problem. Not much higher skills than honey-bees.  

    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  11. OK, for our basic physics lesson of the day.  

    Venus's atmosphere is primarily CO₂. 96.5% according to https:\en.wikipedia.orgwikiAtmosphere_of_Venus (repl with slash) article. Sounds about right. 

    CO₂ has a molecular mass of (1 × 12) + (2 × 16) = (44 g/mol)  The combo of 80% N₂ and 20% O₂ of our atmosphere is 80% (2 × 14) + 20% ( 2 × 16 ) → ( 28.8 g/mol ).  The difference is therefore 15.2 g/mol.  

    Great!  Those big hulking silver coated floating research-and-commerce cities would not have gondolas underneath. They'd instead have platforms inside, where there's nice fresh air.  

    Where to place them, pressure wise?  Oh, at whatever elevation has the 'sweet spot' of temperature and pressure.  Something between ½ and 1½ atmospheres, something not requiring refrigeration or heating.  25° C or so. Someone with more time can find whether that's achievable.  

    Anyway, each cubic meter (m³) of gasbag if filled full of N₂ + O₂, would have a levitating rate of (15.2 g/mol ÷ 22.4 ℓ/mol at STP × 1000 ℓ/m³) • pressure in atmospheres, assuming T is whatever is the norm for STP.  Technically it'd be P/(T – STP)l instead of 'pressure', but there you are. 

    The gas bags would still likely be black-on-top with solar cells, and silver underneath to block upwelling infrared.  I guess. They'd also not likely be clustered in 'balloon cities' as depicted in the graphic. Bouncing = damage.  

    ⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  12. Now that's Interesting: "…Rocket Lab has developed a small satellite, called Photon, that it plans to launch on its own Electron rocket as soon as 2023.

    “This mission is to go and see if we can find life,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and chief executive. “Obviously, this discovery of phosphine really adds strength to that possibility. So I think we need to go and have a look there.”

    Rocket Lab has launched a dozen rockets to space, putting small satellites into orbit for private companies, NASA and the U.S. military. It also has a mission to the moon in the works with NASA, called CAPSTONE, scheduled to launch in early 2021…"
    First come, First discover.

  13. A note about that Venus airship: Why would you use helium rather than hydrogen as your lifting gas anywhere but earth? The only advantage of helium is that is doesn't react explosively with oxygen, but there is no O2 to react with anywhere but the Earth's atmosphere.

  14. Where would the Venusian death micros get enough carbon AND oxygen to increase Earth's atmospheric pressure by two orders of magnitude?

  15. Sulfuric acid droplets. Mind, this does require life that can live in saturated sulfuric acid, but water isn't actually an issue, just the acid.

  16. I'm not getting a clear idea what size organisms could indefinitely "float" in Venus' upper atmosphere, which would be necessary, since any trip to the ground would be "game over" for any kind of life we know of or is similar to Earth life (would silicon-based life survive the ground pressure and temps? Probably not). I guess this rules out Venus birds, but allows for microbes, or gas-birds with bladders of lighter-than-(Venus)-air gas, but they would be pretty vulnerable to winds and predators, I think. Also, the atmosphere is over 95% carbon dioxide, and no oxygen, so that pretty much ends respiration as we know it.

  17. Well, not too hasty: phosphine can also have an abiotic origin and more importantly: biotic phosphine most likely requires water to be formed. There is an extreme lack of water in Venus' atmosphere. This could be wishful thinking.

  18. Not impossible, but I would think the whole surface would have been exposed to rather high temperatures in space on approach to Venus. It is hot in direct sunlight at that distance. Probably over 300 degrees Fahrenheit. And then there were the temperatures and forces during the launch. And if anything survived, what is the probability it would flourish in the Venus atmosphere? Probability very small. Not zero, I suppose, but close to negligible I would think.

  19. Yeah, my guess is some exotic solar/electrical chemistry on Venus clouds.

    But it's fun to speculate and argue for a new mission to Venus.

  20. At Venus surface temperatures, phosphorus is a gas. It reacts with CO2 to form oxides that are also gases. So it isn't hard for any in the crust to end up in the atmosphere.

  21. My belief is that life is everywhere even on so called dead worlds like Mercury and the Moon. Until we drill deep into their crust, I wouldn't rule it out.

  22. Could be a chemical process we are unfamiliar with. But saying that, I would support a Venus blimp that could search for life. Of course, we have done a poor job of searching for life on Mars. Sending a microscope seems out of our league. We end up sending a chemical sensor which we then complain that its life detecting signal wasn't definite enough.

    If we are going to send something to Venus to look for life please include a microscope.

  23. The first question to answer is where does the phosphorus come from. That might give some clues how the phosphine is formed. Phosphine is a very simple molecule: just three hydrogens attached to a phosphorus atom.

  24. At that altitude? You can forget "projectiles" except the rare meteor, ditto for "debris", Venus might have volcanoes, but the odds of a probe being hit by volcanic ejecta in only a year or two would be vanishingly small.

    Wind speeds are fairly high, but at that altitude, pretty uniform.

    No, aside from the acid clouds, actually a pretty safe environment.

    I assume the probe would start with a survey at the highest, and thus safest, altitude it could reach, and then work its way down by stages. Since NASA is going to insist on solar powered, (At least not totally irrational that close to the Sun!) the lower cloud penetrations might have to be brief.

    But, it should actually be an easy mission to build for.

  25. “We don’t know why this is there so I’m the interest of clickbait we’ll say it’s alien life”

    – most press releases

  26. Given that we should live in Space rather on planets, such as Earth, finding life on Venus or Mars makes that wise but unpopular realization all the more obvious! Quarantine time.

  27. something inflatable – with 'toughness'/ thickness within weight limitations expected? at that height in the atmosphere? – projectiles, debris, extreme wind/ pressure events, volcanic venting (more the chemicals than the ejecta) would certainly limit mission duration/ usefulness?

  28. Time to send a probe carrying an astrobiology lab on a balloon to test this out.

    The Soviets already sent a balloon to Venus in 1985, but so far NASA has been too enamored with Mars to care about other places.

    Europa, Enceladus and now Venus also need probes and landers!

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