What Is Phosphine?

If you are at all in touch with what is going on with space news, you would have most likely seen a news story talking about Phosphine in one way or another. So what exactly is Phosphine and why is it being lauded so heavily by people in this research field?

Lets take a look.

Here is the link to the first source article.


Just a heads up I am not all too familiar with some of this subject matter, I am not an authority on these subjects nor do I present myself as one, I am just learning about these things and sharing them with you. I encourage you to do your own further research on any of the subjects that may interest you, and if you know more about something that I just briefly skimmed over, please do share in the comments.

What Is Phosphine?

According to Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phosphine

Phosphine is a “is a colourless, flammable, very toxic gas compound” that was discovered circa 1783 by a Philippe Gengembre, a student of a prominent chemist at the time. Not sure if chemist is the right word. Anyways, there are a bunch more complex things that go along with this, I do not understand half of it and am not going to pretend to. I will just give you some brief summaries of what it is according to different people and you can do further research if you so desire.

Phosphine is used in the semiconductor industry to introduce phosphorus into silicon crystals . It is also used as a fumigant, a polymerization initiator and as an intermediate for the preparation of several flame retardants. Phosphine has an odor of garlic or decaying fish but is odorless when pure.


Phosphine is made industrially from white phosphorus by hydrolysis with an alkali metal hydroxide or an aqueous acid–catalyzed disproportionation reaction. The industrial product is normally shipped as liquefied gas.


Phosphine is produced when metallic phosphides (e.g., aluminum, calcium, or zinc phosphides) react with water or acid. Both aluminum and zinc phosphides are used as rodenticides. Phosphine may be produced during the generation of acetylene gas.

So now that we have got that out of the way…..

What Does This Mean For Venus?

Continuing where we left off with Wikipedia, under the section titled “Possible Extraterrestrial Biosignature” they state – Phosphine has also been detected in the temperate zone of Venus’ atmosphere (approximately 50 km (31 mi) altitude) at 20 ppb, a concentration which is not possible with known chemical processes. http://www.inchem.org/documents/ehc/ehc/ehc73.htm

They go on to say – Venus lacks the high temperatures and pressures to form phosphine the way gas giants such as Jupiter do; thus another explanation for its presence is required.  It is not expected that phosphine would persist in the Venusian atmosphere, since being subject to ultraviolet radiation, it would eventually be consumed by water and carbon dioxide; thus it would have to be replenished. The paper announcing the discovery suggests that the phosphine “could originate from unknown photochemistry or geochemistry, or, by analogy with biological production of PH3 on Earth, from the presence of life”.  For this reason phosphine has been proposed to be a usable biosignature for astrobiology. PH3 is associated with anaerobic ecosystems on Earth, which may be indicative of life on anoxic exoplanets. As of 2020, no known abiotic process generates phosphine gas on terrestrial planets in appreciable quantities, so detectable amounts of phosphine could indicate life.

Very interesting indeed. As I said in the beginning of this piece, the reason for helping to understand this is to go hand-in-hand with the next article that will be on the story published in science daily on this very topic.

Stay tuned for that, don’t forget to like and follow me on twitter if you please. Subscribe to my youtube channel. I want to make videos on stuff like this in the future and this is my way of starting to do that.

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