Planet Talk

Volcanism on Venus?!

As per a summer program I am partaking at Brown University, I am studying the dynamics of Solar System formation and change. For my final project, I have decided to study and design a mission to Venus to determine the composition of rocks and minerals on the surface. While doing research, I came across findings of a strange chemical that was discovered on Venus recently. Trace amounts of phosphine was detected in the clouds of Venus last year by a team led by Jane Greaves at Cardiff University in the UK. This itself was strange as phosphine, made of one atom of phosphorus and three of hydrogen, should break down rather quickly in oxygen-rich atmospheres such as those of Earth and Venus. Phosphine on Earth is created in factories, leading scientists to believe it was an indication of life on Venus.

Unfortunately, however, this discovered phosphine is most likely not an indication of life, as proven by recent results. Planetary scientists now suggest that the root of this phosphine is an active volcanic eruption on the surface of Venus. Ngoc Truong, a planetary scientist at Cornell University said that “we may be witnessing active volcanism on Venus.” This discovery was made by analyzing lab data on both phosphorus chemistry, as well as calculations of volcanic and atmospheric activity. Volcanism on Venus could bring hints of phosphides, which are phosphorus-loaded compounds found deep in the mantle layer, out onto the surface of the planet. Eruptions from volcanoes would cause these phosphides to “spew” and react with sulfuric acid to form phosphine. Evidence for active volcanoes on Venus is not 100% definitive yet, and in fact, it is widely debated by scientists. Even still, there is sufficient logic behind the theory for it to stand ground as a potential reason for the phosphine. It might be safe to say that the possibility of life on Venus has yet again been ruled out!

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