Nikolai Aleksandrovich Kozyrev


Nikolai Aleksandrovich Kozyrev : biography

September 2, 1908 – February 27, 1983

Kozyrev was a bold thinker and was respected by prominent scientists of his time (Arkady Kuzmin, Vasily Moroz, and Iosef Shklovsky all speak highly of him), even though his work was often of a very doubtful nature. Among these theories was the claim that the polar caps of Mars were purely atmospheric cloud formations, rather than ice-covered ground.


In September 1969, the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA, Paris, France) awarded N. Kozyrev a nominal gold medal "For remarkable telescopic and spectral observations of luminescent phenomena on the Moon, showing that the Moon remains a still active body, and stimulating development of the methods of luminescent researches world wide."

In December 1969, the State Committee for Affairs of Discovery and Inventions at the Ministerial Council of the USSR, awarded N. Kozyrev a diploma "For the discovery of tectonic activity of the Moon."

The following astronomical features are named for him:

  • Asteroid 2536 Kozyrev.
  • Kozyrev (crater) on the Moon.


He is most noted for his observation of the transient lunar phenomenon in the crater Alphonsus on the Moon. In 1958 he observed a patch of white within the crater, and a spectrum of the area appeared to reveal an emission cloud of carbon particles. Transient lunar phenomenon had long recorded what appeared to be temporary emissions on the lunar surface, and Kozyrev’s observation was the first observation of the kind, and appeared to provide confirmation that the Moon was volcanically active.

In 1953, Kozyrev attempted to analyze the phenomenon of ashen light, a nocturnal air glow on Venus whose existence remains controversial to this day. He also made the earliest photometric measurements of the visible and ultraviolet spectrum of Venus. His calculation of the thermal balance of Venus disputed the popular theory that the clouds of Venus consisted of dust. Kozyrev argued that energy absorbed in the upper atmosphere created high altitude storms, but the surface of Venus would be still and dimly lit. This work had an impact on the theory of Venus and Nobel Laureate Harold Urey devoted a paper to the analysis and implications of it.

Kozyrev wrongly believed that the white poles of Mars were caused by cloud formations in the atmosphere, not ice on the surface.

Due to his experiments and publications (Causal Mechanics/Theory of Time) he became one of the most controversial figures in the history of the Russian scientific community. In the 1930s, Kozyrev was considered the most promising new astrophysicist in Russia, but his arrest and long imprisonment destroyed his career during what is usually the most creative period of a scientist’s life. Isolated from all news and publications, he pondered the source of internal heat in stars and planets, but was unaware of the discoveries being made in quantum mechanics and atomic energy. After his release, he struggled to recover his place in science, but his own theories were out of step with the current physics by that time.

The dispute over Kozyrev’s causal-mechanics theory spilled into Pravda in 1959, with criticism by some of the Soviet Union’s leading physicists, including Igor Tamm. In January 1960, the Soviet Academy of Sciences and Bureau of Physico-Mathematical Sciences appointed a commission to resolve the dispute. The nine men were assigned to investigate the theory, experimental evidence, and the special issue of planetary asymmetry which Kozyrev claimed was evidence of a gyro-gravitational "latitude effect". Their findings were:

  1. The theory is not based on accepted clearly formulated axiomatics, its conclusions are not developed by sufficiently strict logical or mathematical methods.
  2. The quality and accuracy of conducted laboratory experiments do not allow drawing of specific conclusions about the nature of the effect.
  3. Checking the asymmetric form of major planets by measuring their photographs, it was not found in Saturn. For Jupiter they arrived at the conclusion that the apparent asymmetry was the result of the asymmetric arrangement of bands on its disks but was not a geometrical asymmetry of the planet. [see: Selected Works]