A study led by Rakesh Mogul of Cal Poly Pomona suggests there may be signs of biological life in Venus’ atmosphere.
This follows controversial findings from a recent study of that same dataset published in late 2020 announcing the presence of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. That study also suggested that there may be chemical disequilibrium in the atmosphere of Venus, a key indicator of biological activity.
Mogul’s peer-reviewed results were published in March of 2021 and found that not only was there phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere but it also suggests the presence of a number of “biologically relevant chemicals” existing in a state of disequilibrium, including hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, nitric acid, and nitrous acid. The findings also suggest there may potentially also be ammonia and chlorous acid.
Chemical disequilibrium is the coexistence of two incompatible chemicals over a long period of time. If two naturally incompatible chemicals can coexist within the same environment for sustained periods, this would suggest some external entity is allowing for their coexistence, potentially some sort of biological life.
The primary objective of NASA’s Pioneer Venus mission was to probe the solar winds on Venus. Four probes were sent into the atmosphere of Venus to collect data on Venus’ atmosphere, which were then sent back to Earth for analysis.
According to Mogul and his team, the original analysis in 1978 only measured chemicals that were common in the atmosphere of Venus and did not account for the potential presence of other chemicals, including phosphine. This would explain why it has taken more than 40 years for scientists to find phosphine on Venus — the original study wasn’t looking for anything out of the ordinary (for Venus, anyway).
These findings may reinvigorate interest in that gassy second planet of our solar system. Redox disequilibrium was essential for the evolution of life on Earth, and if the results of this study mean there is potential that the same thing may be happening in our neighboring planet.