Our hot sister planet, Venus, basically has no potential for life on its surface – the pressure and temperature are much too high. Nevertheless, in “The Clouds of Venus,” a team from NASA made an interesting discovery. I was reminded of this when I read a new press release from Cardiff University. Astronomer Jane Greaves and her colleagues have been analyzing Venus’s atmosphere for years and stumbled across an interesting substance: phosphane (older, but chemically incorrect name: phosphine).
On Earth, phosphane, a compound of phosphorus and hydrogen (PH3), is a gas produced predominantly by anaerobic biological sources. The conditions on Venus’s surface are indeed hostile to life, but in the upper layer of clouds – about 53 to 62 kilometers (33 miles to 39 miles) above the surface – the conditions are more moderate. The composition of the clouds, however, is very acidic, and under those conditions, phosphane would be broken down very quickly.