On such a world, “as far as we can tell, only life can make phosphine,” Dr. Susa-Silva said. He has studied gas for a long time, on the theory that it is emitting from rocky planets that distant stars in orbit may be evidence that life exists elsewhere in the Milky Way.
Here on Earth, phosphine is found in our intestines, in the feces of badgers and penguins, and in some deep-sea insects, as well as other biological environments with anaerobic organisms. It is also highly toxic. The military employed it for chemical warfare, and is used as a lethargy on farms. In the TV show “Breaking Bad”, the main character, Walter White, makes two rivals to kill.
But scientists have not yet revealed how the Earth’s germs make it.
“Things like where it’s coming from, how it is made, there’s not a lot of sense,” said Matthew Pasek, a geologist at the University of South Florida, Tampa. “We have seen it associated with microbes, but we have not seen a microbe doing this, which is a subtle difference, but an important one.”
Dr. Susa-Silva was surprised when Drs. Greaves said he had detected phosphine.
“That moment plays out a lot in my mind, because I have a few minutes to ponder what was happening,” she said.
If indeed Venus had phosphine, she believed that there could be no other clear explanation than anaerobic life.
“What we find circumstantial also makes complete sense that we know thermodynamically,” she said.
In March 2019, the team next needed a more powerful telescope for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile.