Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus

Greaves, Jane S. and Richards, Anita M. S. and Bains, William and Rimmer, Paul B. and Sagawa, Hideo and Clements, David L. and Seager, Sara and Petkowski, Janusz J. and Sousa-Silva, Clara and Ranjan, Sukrit and Drabek-Maunder, Emily and Fraser, Helen J. and Cartwright, Annabel and Mueller-Wodarg, Ingo and Zhan, Zhuchang and Friberg, Per and Coulson, Iain and Lee, E’lisa and Hoge, Jim (2020) Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus. Nature Astronomy. ISSN 2397-3366 DOI https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-020-1174-4

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Official URL: https://rdcu.be/b7cmz

Abstract

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 ~15σ) from the JCMT and ALMA telescopes have no other plausible identification. Atmospheric PH3 at ~20 ppb abundance is inferred. The presence of PH3 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. PH3 could originate from unknown photochemistry or geochemistry, or, by analogy with biological production of PH3 on Earth, from the presence of life. Other PH3 spectral features should be sought, while in situ cloud and surface sampling could examine sources of this gas.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: 2020AREP; IA76
Subjects: 01 - Climate Change and Earth-Ocean Atmosphere Systems
99 - Other
Divisions: 01 - Climate Change and Earth-Ocean Atmosphere Systems
99 - Other
Journal or Publication Title: Nature Astronomy
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-020-1174-4
Depositing User: Sarah Humbert
Date Deposited: 15 Sep 2020 09:55
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2020 09:55
URI: http://eprints.esc.cam.ac.uk/id/eprint/4881

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