The mysterious bright white spot that has appeared on Venus, could be the plume from a volcano, a leading UK expert on the planet has told Skymania News.
The feature, first noticed by an amateur astronomer Frank Melillo, of Holtsville, New York, on 19 July, has been confirmed in recent images taken with Europe's Venus Express probe which is orbiting the planet.
By chance, I met up with a scientist working on the mission, Professor Fred Taylor, of Oxford, just a couple of days after the amateur discovery was revealed.
He had not heard of the spot at the time, but immediately suggested it could indicate a volcanic eruption on the planet that has been called Earth's evil twin.
Some had suggested that the spot's position, around 50 degrees south, was outside Venus's volcanic region. But Professor Taylor told me he believes the volcanoes may be found anywhere on the planet and that there could be as many as a million of them.
Following our chat, the professor found a couple of images taken with Venus Express before the latest discovery but which also show bright regions near 50 latitude south. He said the regions would probably be brighter still if observed near the limb.
He also checked on the latest spot with other members of the Venus Express team. Dmitry Titov of the Max Planck Institute in Germany replied to say that the bright spot was indeed recorded by the spacecraft on 19 July. He said it was about 30 per cent brighter than other bright clouds seen at that latitude and was clearly a stand-alone feature, not an extension of the bright polar hood.
Planetary scientists say Venus might once have been much more like Earth with its own oceans of water, but something sent its climate out of control to turn it into the hell that it is today.
Picture: A Venus Express image shows another bright patch at a similar latitude to the white spot, imaged well before the latest discovery (Photo: ESA).
* Discover space for yourself and do fun science with a telescope. Here is Skymania's advice on how to choose a telescope. We also have a guide to the different types of telescope available.