Feeds

UFO, cosmic ray or flasher? NASA rules on Curiosity curiosity

Interwebs go mad with alien hysteria. 'Remain calm, all is well,' says NASA

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Updated The internet has been all aflutter after a picture taken by NASA's Curiosity rover appeared to show a beam of light emanating from the Red Planet's horizon.

Mars light snapped by Curiosity

Martian garden lights

"This is not a glare from the sun, nor is it an artifact of the photo process," claimed the image's discoverer, Scott Waring of UFO Sightings Daily.

"Look closely at the bottom of the light," Waring wrote. "It has a very flat surface giving us 100% indiction [sic] it is from the surface. Sure NASA could go and investigate it, but hey, they are not on Mars to discovery life, but there to stall its discovery."

Doug Ellison from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a man who would very much like to find evidence of life on Mars considering what it would do for JPL's budget, has a more likely solution. He tweeted that the image appears to be the result of Curiosity taking a cosmic ray hit, rather than a sign of little green men.

As streams of high energy particles sleet through space, they cause real problems for computer equipment. It's likely that the ray hit Curiosity and killed off a chunk of data in the camera, since the light only appeared from Curiosity's right-hand camera and not the left one, which took a second image of the area at the same time.

No doubt Mr. Waring will cry foul at such an assertion; his website also claims NASA's probes on Mars have found and ignored tiny statues, fossils, and a carved alien skull. Given that the site also claims to have pictures of a large alien ship docked near the ISS, a UFO fleet flying over Alabama, and an alien saving a man from a road accident, we'll take a more skeptical tone.

Kimberly outcropping on Mars

The winding road to Kimberly (click to enlarge)

Curiosity has been looking around a lot at the moment, as the rover has just finished an epic trek across the Martian surface. After moving out of what looks like a dried-up lake bed, the rover has been climbing towards an outcropping dubbed "Kimberly" by the JPL team, surmounting sand dunes and occasionally going backwards during its three-month trip.

The rover arrived on April 3 and is scoping out the best place to investigate Kimberly. The rock formation seems to expose several different layers of material, and Curiosity will fire up its drill and digest samples if the early data on its composition is correct.

It's very tempting to mock people like Mr. Waring, but his enthusiasm is also a very positive sign. NASA has been releasing streams of images from the Red Planet for public consumption and doesn't have the time or the resources to go over each one with a microscope, but thankfully there are many people online who are happy to do just that. ®

Update

NASA JPL has told The Register that is has examined the Curiosity images and has isolated the possible cause to a couple of options.

The first is that the light comes from sunlight reflecting off a rock on the Martian surface. A crater on the horizon could have reflected light from the Sun, which was relatively low in the sky when the image was taken.

"The rover science team is also looking at the possibility that the bright spots could be caused by cosmic rays striking the camera's detector," said a spokesman. "Among the thousands of images received from Curiosity, ones with bright spots show up nearly every week."

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
Vote now for LOHAN's stirring mission patch motto
Does the shed actually know no bounds, or what?
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Beancounters tell NASA it's too poor to fly planned mega-rocket
Space Launch System would need another $400m and a lot of time
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.