Phosphine (PH3), is a compound made from phosphorus and hydrogen. It is a colorless but smelly gas and is known to be made only by some species of bacteria that survive in the absence of oxygen. A team of international scientists have detected traces of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus which potentially that there could be life on the planet.
“We’re not saying it’s life,” says astronomer Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Wales. “We’re saying it’s a possible sign of life.”
Having roughly the same mass and size of Earth, Venus may look like a habitable planet from far away but up close, it’s is a scorching hellscape with sulfuric acid rain and crushing atmospheric pressures. Although the surface of the planet offers hellish conditions, 50km above the surface is a region that could be hospitable to life.
Phosphine gas can also result from several processes that are unrelated to life, such as lightning, meteor impacts, or even volcanic activity.
Some researchers are still a little skeptical of this sudden detection, thinking that perhaps the signal is from another chemical masquerading as phosphine.