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The possibility of life in the venusian clouds was proposed in the 1960s, and recently this hypothesis has been revived with the potential detection of phosphine (PH3) in Venus' atmosphere. These observations may have detected ∼5–20 ppb phosphine on Venus (Greaves et al., 2020), which raises questions about venusian atmospheric/geochemical processes and suggests that this phosphine could possibly be generated by biological processes. In such a claim, it is essential to understand the abiotic phosphorus chemistry that may occur under Venus-relevant conditions, particularly those processes that may result in phosphine generation. Here, we discuss two related abiotic routes for phosphine generation within the atmosphere of Venus. Based on our assessment, corrosion of large impactors as they ablate near Venus' cloud layer, and the presence of reduced phosphorus compounds in the subcloud layer could result in production of phosphine and may explain the phosphine detected in Venus' atmosphere or on other rocky planets. We end on a cautionary note: although there may be life in the clouds of Venus, the detection of a simple, single gas, phosphine, is likely not a decisive indicator.

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This is an author-produced, peer-reviewed version of this article. The final, definitive version of this document can be found online at Astrobiology, published by Mary Ann Leibert, Inc. Copyright restrictions may apply.

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