Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

10.58 15 Sep 2020


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A gas that is found in farts has been detected on Venus - something scientists say could offer a potential hint of life in the planet's clouds.

Yesterday an international team announced they had found Phosphine gas in the planet's atmosphere.

The gas can only be made naturally by bacteria that thrive in oxygen-depleted environments.

The international team of scientists have offered a note of caution on the discovery due to the complex data, but that it raises many questions about how the gas got there and could point to extra-terrestrial 'aerial' life.

Space commentator Leo Enright told Newstalk Breakfast it's an "intriguing finding".

'It's a gas found in farts' - Why scientists are excited about a new discovery on Venus

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He explained: "This is an intriguing finding. Phosphine is a gas you only find where the sun don't shine - in places like swamps and the human gut.

"Speaking scientifically, Phosphine is one of the main components of the human fart. If they discover there is something floating in the clouds of Venus that is farting... that is a very big deal indeed.

"The scientists that published this report cannot think of any other way of making Phosphine, except by those bugs that make us fart. They're suggesting that a possibility that these bugs could be floating in the atmosphere of Venus."

Mr Enright said that Venus is a very inhospitable environment with a "very dense atmosphere".

He observed: "If you stood on the surface, you would be instantly crushed by the weight of the atmosphere, flat like a pancake... fried like an egg, because it's hotter than the inside of a pizza oven... and you'd be poisoned by the sulphuric acid rain falling down on top of you. Not a place for your holidays."

However, he noted experts do believe that people could survive in a scuba diving suit in the high atmosphere of the planet.

Mr Enright say he believes there has to be life elsewhere in the solar system and the universe - but, in this case, he reckons scientists are more likely to discover unique chemical processes on Venus that can produce this gas without life.

Main image: Artist's impression of Venus, with an inset showing a representation of the phosphine molecules detected in the high cloud decks. ESO / M. Kornmesser / L. Calçada & NASA / JPL / Caltech

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