Reading life signature on Venus

• An announcement by an international team of astronomers about the discovery of phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus
triggered global excitement about the possibility of the presence of lifeforms on the neighbouring planet.

About:

• In a paper published in Nature Astronomy, a team of scientists have reported traces of phosphine in a concentration of approximately 20 parts per billion, thousands to millions of times more than what could otherwise be expected.

• Apart from being produced in industrial processes, phosphine, a colourless but smelly gas, is known to be made only by some species of bacteria that survive in the absence of oxygen.

Significance:

• This is the most credible evidence yet for the possibility of life away from Earth. Scientists say it is more significant, for example, than the discovery of water on the Moon or Mars.

• The finding can further ignite interest in space missions to Venus. In fact, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is also planning a mission to Venus, tentatively called Shukrayaan, in the near future. As of now, the plan is still on the drawing board.

But can Venus support life:

• There are several things that make life unsustainable on that planet. The temperature of Venus is too high, and its atmosphere is highly acidic, just two of the things that would make life impossible.

• But Scientists also suggest that this phosphine could be remnants from a time when Venus was a much more hospitable place.

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Mains Paper 3: Science and Tech

Prelims level: Phosphine gas

Mains level: Key findings about the study relating to the life availability on the planet of Venus

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