You can find the phosphine molecule in some interesting places: insecticides, penguin bellies, and possibly the clouds of Venus.
Phosphine may be a byproduct of living things, so finding it in the clouds of Venus could possibly indicate something living floating around the planet. The surface of Venus is inhospitable, but there are regions in the cloud decks where temperatures and pressures are similar to those found on Earth.
Astronomer and astrobiologist Jane Greaves led the team that announced the discovery of phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere in 2020. She began including a photo of a penguin in her talks to illustrate one of the places where you can find phosphine, and it became a meme. .
“I’m afraid we’ve kind of confused people with this penguin idea,” she said during a presentation at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in June. “We actually didn’t suggest there were penguins flying around desperately, flapping above the surface of Venus.”
What she suggests is that there is strong evidence for phosphine in Venusian clouds. In the two years since his original paper on phosphine generated great interest from the public and the scientific community, many other scientists have studied the paper and done their own research. Some scientists argued while others questioned the validity of phosphine detection.
In his AAS talk, Greaves described the story so far and presented new findings supporting his phosphine in Venus clouds.