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Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus

Greaves, Jane S. ORCID:, Richards, Anita M. S., Bains, William, Rimmer, Paul B., Sagawa, Hideo, Clements, David L., Seager, Sara, Petkowski, Janusz J., Sousa-Silva, Clara, Ranjan, Sukrit, Drabek-Maunder, Emily ORCID:, Fraser, Helen J., Cartwright, Annabel, Mueller-Wodarg, Ingo, Zhan, Zhuchang, Friberg, Per, Coulson, Iain, Lee, E'lisa and Hoge, Jim 2021. Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus. Nature Astronomy 5 , pp. 655-664. 10.1038/s41550-020-1174-4

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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
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Physics and Astronomy
Additional Information: 20 November 2020 Editor’s Note: The authors have informed the editors of Nature Astronomy about an error in the original processing of the ALMA Observatory data underlying the work in this Article, and that recalibration of the data has had an impact on the conclusions that can be drawn. Nature Astronomy is working with the authors to resolve the matter, but in the meantime, readers are cautioned against using the paper’s quantifications for the ALMA part of the dataset.
Publisher: Nature Publishing Group
ISSN: 2397-3366
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 16 September 2020
Date of Acceptance: 13 July 2020
Last Modified: 28 Mar 2024 06:25

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