A Russian scientist claims to have spotted signs of life in the most unlikely spot in the universe: Venus, the arid, scorching second-closest planet to the sun.
Venus is widely considered to be lifeless and barren, thanks in part to superheated clouds of sulfuric acid that cover the planet. NASA’s Solar System Exploration site says the scorched world has temperatures higher than 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius) -- that's hot enough to melt lead. Indeed, probes that have landed on Venus survived only a few hours before being destroyed by the incredible temperatures, NASA notes.
Clearly life there would face incredible challenges. Yet Russian scientist Leonid Ksanfomaliti of the Space Research Institute at Russia's Academy of Sciences thinks otherwise.
"What if we forget about the current theories about the non-existence of life on Venus,” he wrote in Solar System Research magazine, according to the Times of India.
Ksanfomaliti reanalyzed nearly 30-year-old images from a Venus mission made by the Soviet landing probe Venus-13 in 1982. He claims to have discovered several photographs featuring mysterious objects that he claims resemble a disk, a black flap and even a scorpion.
“Let's boldly suggest that the objects' morphological features would allow us to say that they are living," Ksanfomaliti wrote.
Reality may be less exciting.
NASA recently published a debunking of another unexplained object in space, this time an anomaly discovered in footage from NASA’s STEREO-B spacecraft -- one of a pair of probes parked on either side of the sun.
Images from that craft appeared to show a triangular “vehicle” out near Venus.
But a team of scientists who work with data from the probes say it's no more than a trick of the light.
"The answer lies on the exact opposite side of the image," the scientists wrote. "At the same time as this strange-looking feature starts being visible, the very bright planet Venus enters the [telescopic camera's] field-of-view from the lower left."
The geometrical 'object' is actually an internal reflection of the planet Venus within the telescope, they explained.
It's possible the images are a similar artifact. After all, NASA's Magellan spacecraft arrived at Venus almost a decade after the Russian probe, and mapped the vast majority of the planet up close -- with nary a sign of life.
The most recent issue of Solar System Research currently available online -- Vol. 45, No. 7, from 2011 -- contains an article on Russia’s most recent space experiment, titled “Planetary Protection Principles Used for Phobos-Grunt Mission.”
The ill-fated Phobos-Grunt probe malfunctioned shortly after launch late last year, and crashed to Earth on Jan. 15 after more than two months of aimless wandering in a low-Earth orbit.