From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Phosphine, Venus
Mains level : Quest for extraterrestrial life
Scientists have detected in the harshly acidic clouds of Venus a gas called phosphine that indicates microbes may inhabit Earth’s inhospitable neighbour, a sign of potential life beyond Earth.
Try this PYQ:
Q.Which phenomenon has Venusian winds rotating 60 times faster than the planet below on the dark side?
(a) Super rotation
(c) Dual rotation
- Phosphine – a phosphorus atom with three hydrogen atoms attached – is highly toxic to people.
- It is known to be produced only through a biological process, and not through any naturally occurring chemical process.
- Phosphine was seen at 20 parts-per-billion in the Venusian atmosphere, a trace concentration.
- Researchers examined potential non-biological sources such as volcanism, meteorites, lightning and various types of chemical reactions, but none appeared viable.
- There are some other ways in which this chemical might be produced, for example, in the underbelly of volcanoes or meteorite activity, but that would have shown in much lower concentrations.
Why study Venus?
- Venus is Earth’s closest planetary neighbour. Similar in structure but slightly smaller than Earth, it is the second planet from the sun. Earth is the third.
- Venus is wrapped in a thick, toxic atmosphere that traps in heat. Surface temperatures reach a scorching 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), hot enough to melt lead.
- Existence of phosphine is the most credible evidence yet for the possibility of life away from Earth.
Hosting life on Venus
- There are several things that we know about Venus that make life, as we know it, 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.
- It is too early to consider this as evidence for extraterrestrial life.
Paving way for future mission
- Missions to Venus are not new. The finding can further ignite interest in space missions to Venus.
- Spacecraft have been going near the planet since the 1960s, and some of them have even made a landing.
- 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. All future missions to Venus would now be attuned to investigating further evidence of the presence of life.