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An unexpected gas, associated
with life, was found in the
planet Venus' atmosphere!

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Part 4

This topic is continued here from the previous essay.

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The planet Venus has many points of similarity to Earth. 1 They are both about the same size. They both have a rocky surface and weather systems. A person would weigh about the same on Venus as they do on Earth. However, its surface temperature is about 465°C (870° F)! This would make it quite unsuitable for life as we know it! On the surfae, a person would live for only a matter of seconds, and equipment a matter of minutes.

During 1967, astronomer Carl Sagan and biologist Harold Morowitz had speculated that life might be possible in Venus' atmosphere where the temperature is relatively mild.

David Clements is an astrophysicist at the Imperial College of London. He is part of the group that made a remarkable discovery during the Summer of 2020: a trace amounts of a gas, phosphine (PH3), are present in a narrow region of Venus's atmosphere, called the "cloud deck." It is the only location where researchers believe living organisms could survive. PH3 is composed of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms.

The team used the Atacama (ALMA) array in Chile and the James Clerk Maxwell telescope located in Hawaii to detect the gas.

He said that it is It is "a toxic and explosive molecule with a lingering odor of garlic and dead fish."

It is only found in trace amounts on Venus: The concentration is 5 to 20 parts per billion. He said: "It’s equivalent to a few tablespoons in an Olympic sized swimming pool!"

What makes this discovery particularly interesting is that, on Earth, phosphine is naturally produced only by living creatures! There is a possibility that some form of life exists in the atmosphere of Venus.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Venus," NASA solar system exploration," NASA Science, 2019-DEC-19. at:
  2. Lore Grush, "Discovery of noxious gas on Venus could be a sign of life," The Verge, 2020-SEP-14, at:
  3. Jane S. Greaves, "Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus," Nature Astronomy, 2020-SEP-24, at:
  4. Video featuring Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder of the Royal Observatory Greenwich and Prof. Jane Greaves of Cardiff University; "Life on Venus? A behind-the-scenes look at the discovery of phosphine gas in the planet's clouds," Royal Observatory Greenwich, at:

Original posting: 2020-SEP-14
Latest update: 2020-SEP-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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