Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Phobos 2: a Bloody Soviet ‘Close Encounter’


March 25, 1989 – Purportedly the above-top-secret infrared photo taken from the Soviet Phobos II probe, showing an object approaching the Martian moonlet. Estimates say the UFO was approximately 15.5 miles long.” [UFO mag, vol 7, n 1, 1992]

Long before our War with the Moon, the Soviets had already packed “a very powerful laser” to be fired at the Martian moonlet Phobos. “All went well”, UFO mag’s Don Ecker wrote, until March 25, 1989. “Something” turned the Soviet probe into a spinner and the unmanned craft then disappeared.

“According to Zechariah Sitchin in his book Genesis Revisited, the rumor going around was that the Soviet space craft had encountered a huge ‘UFO’ while in Mars orbit. In his book, Sitchin included a photo that the Russians released, which showed a large ellipse shadow reflected off Mars. Sitchin claims that the few photos Phobos sent back prior disappearing were never released by the Russians, and that they treated the entire matter as ‘above top secret’.”

Tasty mystery, isn’t it? And the solution involves some bleeding!

Knowledge shall set you free

Who would have thought that twenty years later, these “above-top-secret” images would be fully and openly available on that thing called the Internets! Well, it is! Ladies and gentlemen, click the image below for The Complete Phobos 2 VSK Image Data Set:


Does the right image look familiar? That’s because it’s the original image with the “gigantic UFO”. Let’s look at it more closely:


Funny thing how the 15 mile UFO looks like a 1989 8-bit Space Invader. That is, it’s pixelated, following exactly the vertical pixels of the digital image. Not only that, there’s another horizontal line – perhaps a +100 mile transversal UFO? – which interrupts it.

You savvy reader already realized the “UFO” is nothing more than a digital artifact. “Since the line runs right along the telemetry scan lines, space experts are confident it is some sort of transmission flaw, not a real object in space”, wrote Jim Oberg back in 2000.

If you had any doubt about it being a digital artifact and not an actual perfectly aligned and geometrical 15 mile UFO, just watch the animated GIF below, created by Internos2k from ATS, source of mostly all the evidence presented in this post:


Note how the bright vertical artifact appears in the same spot across several images, some taken on February 21, more than a month before the famous March 25 one.

And if you still had any doubt – after all, this image data set is being presented at the Planetary Society website, founded by none other than arch-skeptic Carl Sagan – just realize that Phobos 2 actually lost contact with Earth on March 27, two days after the famous “above-top-secret” image. Much less dramatic, a gigantic geometric aligned UFO that appears a couple of days before destroying the Soviet probe.

Oh, I mentioned there was some bleeding involved. Though the exact cause of those digital artifacts could be due to a problem at the image sensor, processing or transmission (or a combination of those), one thing we can say for sure is that we are seeing some pixel bleeding, that is, problems at some pixels “bled” to adjacent ones, following vertical or horizontal scan/encoding/transmission lines. So there’s your bleeding. If you expected something gorier, that will have to wait until we send our soldiers to fight on Mars.

Now, to the other remaining “mysteries”.

Afraid of his own shadow

Sitchin publicized the rumour about a large ellipse shadow reflected off Mars. “The explanation is just one”, writes Internos: “he has never seen more photos of Phobo’s shadow, otherwise he would have realized that it’s not unusual at all: actually that’s its normal appearance, under some circumstances”.

That is, the shadow was of the moonlet Phobos. Below is that not-mysterious-at-all shadow captured by Mars Express on 2005 (click for more info at ESA):


And that public disservice of promoting Phobos’ own shadow as something unexplained comes from the man that is allegedly a NASA consultant and insider. This is not the first incident where Sitchin creates non-existent mysteries out of trivial scientific data. I already wrote in Portuguese about his antics with “Alien Genes”, allegedly “corroboration by modern science of the Anunnaki”, but in fact simply much discussed horizontal gene transfer which, even if it actually occurred, happened very early on when we became vertebrates. Not even Sitchin claims the Anunnaki created the vertebrates on Earth. This expert genius can’t even understand a press release by the Genome Project.

That, assuming he makes these mistakes unintentionally. Let us not consider the idea Sitchin deliberately distorts scientific findings and discoveries.

Which takes us to the source of that “above-top-secret” image of a digital artifact promoted as a 15 mile UFO. According to UFO mag:

“Dr. Marina Popovich, the former Soviet test pilot who has made several trips to the US to share her views on the UFO issue, claimed to UFO in May of 1991 that the incident was discussed by Soviet Gen. Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and President Bush at the Malta Conference. The photo was given to Dr. Popovich, she says, by Soviet Cosmonaut Leonov in June of 1989, and was reportedly taken by the infrared cameras on board the ill-fated Soviet craft. According to the Russians, the long ellipsoid-shaped object seen just outside of Phobos was 25 kilometres (approximately 15.5 miles) in length.”

Popovich. That’s a name you don’t read about much nowadays, but it was related to a lot of wild stories a couple of decades ago. In particular, Popovich was also the source for another classic UFO image from the early 1990s. As Luis Ruiz Noguez calls it, it’s the “Zipper Martian”:


Spoiler, spoiler. This infamous image was actually a wax sculpture titled “Man of My Dreams” by Linda Corriveau, displayed at the “Strange, Strange World” Pavillion to millions of visitors from 1978 to 1981. She tells the whole story here. It includes Popovich, Hynek, Friedman and the most delicious detail is how the wax sculpture was displayed in a large aluminium and Plexiglas case originally created for the Cardiff Giant.


Some things change fast. Twenty years ago, xeroxed images of the most prosaic origins popped up and where shared by gullible quacks in UFO conferences, generating rumours over rumours published in books, newsletters and becoming legend. A digital artifact from a space probe became a giant attacking UFO, subject of a cover-up and discussions between world leaders. A wax sculpture became the first known image of the Roswell aliens. It took years and some professional journalists to contact the appropriate experts to get to the bottom of a Soviet probe dataset or to the alien image to reach its original author. The debunking seldom got the same publicity as the original rumours.

Nowadays we can quickly locate how a gruesome “chupacabra” image was actually from an artist, and the complete dataset from space probes is available at a couple of clicks. No one says the shadow of Phobos captured by Mars Express is mysterious. Sitchin seems to have learned about that.

Other things do not change. Pixel bleeding from space probes, as recently as 2003 were still being promoted as giant UFOs in space, even though NASA has debunked them just weeks later. Gullibility and the will to believe do not change, and the link between the 19th century Cardiff Giant and the 20th century Zipper Martian illustrate that in a most exquisite way.

It was an aluminium and Plexiglas link.



As we have the complete dataset via Sagan’s Planetary Society, it’s worth noting Sagan’s first book was co-authored with Soviet astronomer Iosif Shklovsky, who back in 1959 was actually one of the first to suggest Phobos might be hollow, and possibly of artificial origin, launched by aliens perhaps millions of years ago. Contrary to later individuals such as Sitchin, Popovich, Däniken et al, the serious Soviet astronomer made it clear these were only speculations. Further study of Phobos, including by the Phobos II probe, refuted the speculation of the Martian moon as a giant alien spaceship, but you can see how in the 1990s the rumour about giant alien spaceships attacking Earth probes resonated.

[With many thanks to Internos2k for all the work!]

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Posted in Aliens,UFO photos,UFOs | 9 comments

9 Comments so far

  1. Les liens du dimanche #37 | ufofu October 25th, 2009 3:33 am

    […] qu’un artéfact vetical présent sur plusieurs des images et du à la caméra. Kentaro Mori résume l’affaire sur […]

  2. someone December 12th, 2009 10:31 pm

    There seems to be missing one picture in the “complete” set of images from Phobos 2:


    There should be either 2290131, 2290132 or 2290133. So where is it?

    Besides, what makes you sure that the images provided are complete?

  3. Mori December 13th, 2009 1:00 am

    Even if the set is not complete, the images allegedly smuggled with the supposed giant UFO are there. And they are clearly not UFOs. The possibility there’s some missing images with anything mysterious in this set is, a priori, as high, or as low, as them existing in any other set of images from any other space probe. It’s a flimsy mystery to grab in to.

  4. you September 17th, 2011 3:11 pm

    why does the first image on the page look nothing like the images you describe in your debunking? why is this page so high up in google results with only one reply?

  5. michael December 26th, 2011 8:22 am

    Common people you can’t be serious? I am as open minded as the next guy, but the author is presenting a perfectly reasonable, logical explanation for the these so-called unexplained objects… You just believe whatever you want to believe no matter what.

    So to respond to the last comment (sep 17th)… this is all part of the cover up! haha, get a life.

  6. Anubis12 April 8th, 2012 9:44 am

    I would love nothing more than to see evidence of extraterrestrial life, but this is clearly not it. After spending 20 years in the U.S. Military I can assure you, flaws in Russian electronics is common place. I understand your need to prove that something or someone is “out there”; but I think you’re barking up the wrong asteroid here. Sometimes we have to recognize flawed theories and move on to more feasible possibilities for evidence.

  7. Igor June 17th, 2012 1:12 pm

    Particularly, I don’t understand the “hate” for Zacharia Sitchin, wich for me is a great scholar and his “theory”(like yours!!! a THEORY!!!)is by far better sound than any other creation epic known to man. Put it this way: if you can explain to me right now, how the stones in Baalbek, Turkey, where shaped and moved to their resting place, I will drop all my studies for the last 10 years (degrees in Psychology, Business and masters in Liberal Studies…by the way, please provide us readers with your degree background please)and will defend your thesis for sure. But please no run arounds…be straight, concise and specific in how those stones were moved. If you can, you will prove with no shadow of doubt to the audience here, that Dr. Sitchin has a better sound theory than yours.
    Please, the floor is yours.

  8. Igor June 17th, 2012 1:14 pm

    If you can’t, I meant…

  9. deezlbc July 25th, 2013 12:11 pm

    @Igor, Degrees are nice but knowledge does not equal intelligence. A halfway reasonable human being can see that this writing is probably more provable and accurate than aliens or any other wild story without any kind of tangible evidence.

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