The Reason For The Appearance Of Phosphine In The Atmosphere Of Venus Was Called Volcanic Eruptions
Astronomers have suggested that phosphine, presumably recorded last year in the Venusian atmosphere, got there not because of the existence of life on the planet but because of explosive volcanic eruptions. The results of the study are available in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Traces of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus tell us not that there is life in its clouds, but about what is happening in its bowels. All the data available to us indicate that explosive volcanic eruptions have been occurring on Venus recently or even now," said Jonathan Lunin, one of the authors of the study, professor at Cornell University.
At the end of September last year, planetary scientists said that they saw traces of phosphine, a gaseous compound of phosphorus and hydrogen, in the spectrum of the upper layers of the atmosphere of Venus, at an altitude of about 50-60 km. At this altitude, relatively warm clouds are located, which contain a lot of water and relatively few chemically aggressive compounds.
By its nature, this gas is unstable; it is formed on Earth only as a result of processes associated with living organisms. Therefore, astronomers have suggested that similar microbes may be the source of it on Venus. This is also supported by the fact that in the same clouds, scientists have found hints of the existence of complex compounds that are similar to proteins in their spectral properties.
Subsequently, some astronomers doubted the discovery of phosphine, and other scientists tried to re-detect its traces but were unable to do so. Therefore, many scientists believe that the "traces" of phosphine are most likely random interference or measurement error.
However, Lunin and his colleagues decided to proceed from the fact that there is phosphine in the planet's atmosphere. But the reason for its appearance may be different. According to the results of the new study, they offered an alternative explanation for how this gas could have appeared in the atmosphere of Venus, as well as why astronomers did not find traces of it during repeated observations.
The researchers assumed that a fairly large amount of phosphine is formed on Earth during certain types of volcanic eruptions. Its source is compounds of phosphorus and metals from rocks of the deep layers of the mantle. They are converted into phosphine during a chain of complex reactions with sulfuric acid and other volatile substances, which are also found in the emissions of volcanoes. And there is even more sulfuric acid in the cloud layer of the atmosphere of Venus.
Calculations of planetary scientists show that the eruptions of Venusian volcanoes, comparable in power to the explosion of Mount Krakatoa in 1883, can raise a sufficiently large number of phosphorus and metal compounds to the height where the presence of phosphine was initially suspected. There, these compounds can interact with sulfuric acid and generate phosphine. After the eruption is over, the gas concentration will decrease rapidly. As a result, traces of this gas will appear and disappear periodically-depending on whether powerful eruptions occur on the planet or not.
Planetary scientists believe that the recently discovered traces of powerful volcanic eruptions near the south pole of the planet, as well as potential traces of volcanic emissions in the atmosphere of Venus, discovered in 1978 by the American Pioneer Venus mission, speak in favor of their hypothesis.
Lunin and his colleagues hope that their theory can be tested in the coming years when a new generation of interplanetary probes will be sent to Venus. They will be able to measure the proportions of phosphorus compounds in its atmosphere as accurately as possible, as well as discover new traces of volcanic eruptions on the surface of the second planet of the Solar system.