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There's something strange going on in the atmosphere around Venus.

Astronomers have found a gas never before seen in the clouds floating above the bright white planet.

It's called phosphine and its presence is an indicator of possible life.

Astronomer Kechil Kirkham tells John Maytham why astronomers are so excited by this latest discovery.

Phosphine is a biosignature of life. Of course, not life as we know it, but microbial life or some sort of bacterial life.

Kechil Kirkham, Astronomer

It's usual and unexpected. Phosphine has been found on Saturn and Jupiter, but you'd expect to see it there.

Kechil Kirkham, Astronomer

It's difficult to think about how it might survive in those conditions because Venus is no walk in the park, it's a hellish place.

Kechil Kirkham, Astronomer

Hellish indeed. Temperatures on the surface of the planet are 470 degrees Celcius. That's more than it would take to melt lead!

Kirkham says further research is needed to determine the possibility of the existence of life, but given the planet's inhospitable climate, it won't be easy.

What people are proposing is some sort of Teflon coated balloon that can hang around in the upper atmosphere for a while gathering data.

Kechil Kirkham, Astronomer

Find out more about the potential for life on Venus by listening to the full conversation:

This article first appeared on CapeTalk : Life on Venus? Here's what you need to know about the latest discovery

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