Martians Or A Mere Technical Glitch? What's That Light Shining On Mars?
April 9, 2014

Mystery Mars Light: Technical Glitch, Cosmic Rays Or Extraterrestrial Life?

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

It’s the mystery that has space enthusiasts and the blogosphere buzzing: what exactly is the flash of light that appears on photos taken by NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover earlier this month?

According to Rachel Katz of ABC News, the images were taken by the rover on April 2 and 3 at a location called “the Kimberley,” a spot where Curiosity could search for rock clues about ancient environments which could have been favorable for life.

When the pictures were transmitted to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, it was discovered that they contained what appeared to be some type of artificial light shooting outwards from the planet’s surface.

According to a NASA statement issued on Tuesday, the images were taken on April 2 and April 3 and include bright spots which may be due to the sun glinting off a rock or cosmic rays striking the camera's detector. However, as both ABC and The Telegraph noted on Tuesday, plenty of others have gone public with their own theories.

UFO blogger Scott Waring told the UK newspaper that the photograph suggests that there are intelligent creatures living under the surface of Mars. Waring said that the light “is not a glare from the sun,” nor is it “an artifact of the photo process.” The bottom of the light has a flat surface which Waring said indicates with “100 percent” certainty that it originates from the surface, and “could indicate there is intelligent life below the ground.”

Other astronomy experts counter that the light source is likely a subatomic particle that collided with the camera and left behind an energy trail, the Houston Chronicle noted, and JPL’s Doug Ellison told reporters that it was probably a “cosmic ray hit” resulting from high-energy particles hitting the planet’s surface, The Telegraph added.

When asked about the images, JPL imaging scientist Justin Maki told Katz, “In the two right-eye images [on the rover] the spot is in different locations of the image frame and, in both cases, at the ground-surface level in front of a crater rim on the horizon. One possibility is that the light is the glint from a rock surface reflecting the sun.”

Maki explained that on the days that the images were captured, the sun was in the same direction as the bright spot. Alternately, the light could be the result of a technical glitch, which has occurred in the past on both Curiosity and cameras outfitted on other Mars rovers. He said that NASA is exploring the possibility “that the bright spots could be sunlight reaching the camera’s CCD directly through a vent hole in the camera housing.”

As for The Kimberley, it is a region where four different types of rocks intersect. Curiosity has been scheduled to investigate this region since early 2013, and scientists will be spending the next several weeks conducting observations, instructing the rover to drill for samples and completing on-site analysis of the rocks located there. With its arrival at this location, Curiosity has driven 3.8 miles since arriving on the planet since August 2012.