'POTENTIALLY the greatest discovery ever'.

That's the view of an astronomer based in Whittington after it was announced scientists from Cardiff University discovered a gas in the upper atmosphere of Venus which points to life.

Phosphine – a colourless gas that has the smell of garlic or decaying fish – is produced predominantly by anaerobic biological sources.

Small amounts of the gas occur naturally from the breakdown of organic matter.

Peter Williamson, who also works at the university but lives in Whittington, believes that after further research the discovery could be more than just groundbreaking.

"I would say it is one of the best scientific discoveries and if it turns out to be life, the best ever," he said.

"They will be doing more research now – I know the Russians have a probe going out soon so maybe they will ask them if they can piggy back some equipment on it.

"If it turns out that it is life, I don't think it's just a groundbreaking thing, or the biggest discovery in the last few years – I think it will be the biggest discovery ever because it's life elsewhere.

"There is a strong possibility – they have discovered a chemical called phosphine which on Earth is man-made or emitted by certain microbes.

"Those emitted on Earth are most e-coli found in the gut of penguins.

"It does occur on Jupiter and Saturn but because of the chemical situation and the pressures, there is no mechanism in Venus's atmosphere to create these chemicals.

"The strong possibility is that it is microbes that are creating this gas.

"But, it might be a chemical reaction that we don't understand yet so they're not going to stick their necks out and say there is life just yet.

"Something has to be producing it and because this gas is only something that exists for a couple of hours, it's something there now that's producing it.

"It's not gas that's been lying about for hundreds or thousands of years, something is producing it all the time because it only has a small life and that strong possibility is that it's microbes.

"It is a strong pointer towards life in the clouds above Venus."

Peter said that may in his profession were waiting to see what the final announcement would be from the Royal Astronomical Society, after some leaked information muddied the waters.

He added: "We didn't know what was going to happen – it was going to be announced by the RAS on Monday and then all of a sudden somethings got leaked out a few days before.

"We were wondering if the RAS had put that out to try to take some people off the scent about what was happening so it was best not to say.

"It's been a very well-kept secret as I work with people at Cardiff University, where it was discovered, and they've kept absolutely quiet about this as they've been working on it for a couple of years."