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'Light' seen on the horizon by Mars rover Curiosity

Mars Rover Sees a Light on the Horizon

The Red Planet may well be a dead planet, but deep down we all seem to want to find that extraterrestrial intelligence is (or at least was) present on Mars. From the Face on Mars through to Bigfoot on Mars, news stories continue to be written about photographic anomalies on our second-nearest planetary neighbour (no doubt assisted by the relatively large number of missions that have placed satellites in orbit and rovers on the ground there).

The latest anomaly creating a buzz is a ‘light on the horizon’ snapped by NASA’s Curiosity rover four days ago (April 3) soon after reaching a new study area known as the Kimberley (see the pic above – click for full-size image). But before you get too excited, there’s a problem: Curiosity takes stereo pictures with two different cameras, and the ‘light’ only shows up in the right hand camera, despite both taking pictures simultaneously. This suggests that the ‘light’ is not truly out there on the horizon, but is instead an imaging artifact of some kind. Indeed, Doug Ellison, visualisation producer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), explicitly stated on Twitter today that it was an artifact caused by “a cosmic ray hit“. Such glitches have caused Mars confusion before, such as this story about a Martian base.

What I found odd though is that another image taken by Curiosity, a day earlier, also showed this ‘light’ artifact – and this glitch too was precisely on the horizon line:

Another 'light' seen on the horizon by Mars rover Curiosity

The camera is positioned differently, it was taken a day earlier, and yet the ‘light’ is on both occasions on the horizon. I thought perhaps that such glitches might manifest in areas of high contrast (e.g. where ground meets sky/distant mountain range) in an image, so I asked Doug Ellison on Twitter whether that was the reason for the similarity in location. His reply was that it was actually, quite simply, a coincidence that was bound to happen at some stage:

I bow to the experts on these matters, but I still find that explanation slightly unconvincing. Maybe there’s a better one: the Martians are trying to blind the rover

(Caveat for the sake of those without a drop of humour: that last statement was a joke).

Update: Last night I checked Curiosity’s track maps and consulted Google Earth’s Mars view to get a feel for the direction the images are looking. What I found piqued my interest even further. The bottom image in my post was taken on Sol 588, the top image a day later on Sol 589. During that time the Rover moved slightly to the south, and in both cases is looking west(ish), firstly from the north-side of a mound in the foreground and subsequently on the south-side. If you look at where the light is in relation to the mountain range in the background (use the quite recognisable ‘two-level’ mountain directly behind the ‘light’ in the top pic for reference), you’ll notice that the ‘light’ would be in pretty much the same position on the terrain a couple of hundred metres away, if parallax is taken into consideration. Which tends to lift the possibility in my mind that it could very well be a physical object (shiny rock, electrostatic dust devil, Nephilim) rather than a cosmic ray camera artifact (though the issue of only being in one of the stereo cameras remains suggestive of a cosmic ray artifact).

Update 2: A few about-faces today on the cosmic ray artifact explanation. Doug Ellison, who in his reply to me was certain it was a CR, is now saying “I’ve done a complete 180. 589 could be a CR hit. 588 isn’t. It hides behind a hill behind the two eyes… if one triangulates between the two observations, one finds a point on a small ridge line. That point is also visible in Sol 580 MastCam imagery that shows a tall, thing [sic], bright rock at the exact same point”. And Justin Maki, lead scientist on Curiosity’s engineering cameras, has told Alan Boyle that it could be the light is the glint from a rock surface reflecting the sun.

Link: Bright Blips on Mars Pictures Spark a Buzz Among UFO Fans

  1. Nothing to see here folks, move along.
    “The fact that it’s in one ‘eye’ but not the other means it’s an imaging artifact and not a real ‘thing’ in the terrain. Period.”

    As someone who takes a lot of photos, I often see things out of one eye that aren’t visible through the other, simply due to the perspective involved. So why would that prove it’s simply an imaging artifact?

    1. No no, that’s all there is.
      No no, that’s all there is. No reason to discuss any further. Everything is a photo artifact, everything is a coincidence. I hope you can visualize my eyes rolling.

      1. where are the others?
        Has anyone done a statistical sampling of the OTHER images to see if indeed these CR artifacts do happen “all the time” and that two hits on a horizon are mere coincidence of picking those two image samples out of the thousands with bright pixes? I am not deep into these things, but I’ve looked at I’m sure several hundred planetary probe images and I don’t recall *ever* seeing CR effects before. Two in one trip, and both at the same relative location, that seems, well, a tad serendipitous.

        On the other hand, to be fair to the other side, if this is indeed a tangible artifact, it isn’t likely to be completely unique as that too is too serendipitous, and therefore we should find these things all over Mars. My money is on beer cans picked up on joyrides to the third planet.

        Empty cans
        Along the road
        Are ugly some folks say
        But when at night
        They catch the light
        They safely guide the way!

        (Burma Shave road signs in an old MAD magazine)

  2. sensor artifact
    This is such a very TYPICAL pixel defect on a sensor, NASA should maybe run their images through Lightroom before releasing anything to the public.
    Given how many photo enthusiasts engage in pixel peeping all the time, it is truly amazing (scary?) how such so totally obvious nonsense creates hype on the internet.

    1. It has about the same light
      It has about the same light value as the highly reflective surfaces visible on the rover. Such coincidences at the very least deserve further scrutiny.

    2. Well…
      …you could be right. But the fact that it’s so perfectly situated on the horizon line suggests it deserves a closer look. No need to be scared, nil.

      1. Extra strangeness
        [quote=jupiter.enteract]…you could be right. But the fact that it’s so perfectly situated on the horizon line suggests it deserves a closer look. No need to be scared, nil.[/quote]

        Even more interesting is that not only is it on the horizon line in both images, it looks to be in almost the same physical position. The bottom image in my post is on Sol 588, when the rover was slightly north of a mound in the foreground (beginnings of which are visible on the hard left of the image), looking to the west. The top image is the following day, on Sol 589, when Curiosity had driven slightly to the south of the mound (now quite visible on the right side of the image), still looking west.

        Note the mountain range in the background of each image – in the top image, directly behind the ‘light’ is a quite noticeable ‘two-step’ mountain range. In the bottom image, taken a day before, the ‘light’ is to the left of the mountain range. The different positions of each ‘light’ are reasonably consistent with what might be expected via parallax for an object a few hundred metres away.

        I’d still lean towards the official explanation of an image artifact, given the lack of ‘light’ in the left cameras images. But both times in the right camera, both times on the horizon line in what would seem to be a very similar position on the geography of that location if it was an actual object – despite the rover having moved, and the camera tilting in a different way – let’s just say it has piqued my interest.

        There is actually a very large crater on that line of sight on Mars. Does that mean I get first dibs on naming the Martian military base when it’s finally discovered?

    1. Hmm…
      I hope you were referring to Doug Ellison & not nil, who’s more than entitled to his opinion –& IMO was not engaging in ‘skepdick’ behavior 😉

  3. Hmm….
    There are no coincidences.

    Once might be an “artifact”.

    Twice, with both times being perfectly situated on the horizon?

    I don’t buy their explanation for one minute. An artifact like that would start showing up all the time, and not just in such an exact place when taken at different angles.

    I do, though, love all the Nasa Fanboyz running around all the ‘net rooms busily doing their master’s bidding. Apparently, if you question Nasa’s official explanation you deserve the full-on bullyboy zampolit treatment.

  4. Post updated
    Just a heads-up to others interested in this thread – I’ve added an update, as a few scientists seem to now be coming around to the thinking that it’s a shiny rock a couple of hundred metres away from Curiosity.

      1. I mentioned its degree of
        I mentioned its degree of reflectivity not to debunk it, but to point out that is in indeed “mighty reflective” – too much so for Martian rock we know of so far. Look, we know there are ET’s zipping around everywhere, so what is so improbable about this being something mechanical and intelligently made? We don’t really have enough information to judge what it is, but we know it could be of intelligent manufacture. It is not that improbable.

          1. These high res photos from
            These high res photos from Mars are so creepy to me – they show what happens to a planet that has died or never gotten off the ground in terms of life. There may be some form of life, but it’s strictly covert and rare. Yet, the planet’s topography is so “scenic” and almost romantic looking. These photos have probably done more to screw with people philosophically than anything else. I know a few religious fundies who just “don’t want to talk about it” when the subject of Mars comes up. Seeing a vast planet that looks so much like earth’s sans life is so much so a “land that has no God.” I personally rose above these hangups when I was a teenager and figured out my own God or lack thereof, but I do feel for people who were brainwashed as children in a manner that does not allow them to absorb these modern space age revelations. There are many of them out there, and they suffer in silence.

          2. A God-less land
            Interesting. And yet aren’t those also the same people who feel threatened by the notion of extraterrestrial life, in so far as to automatically assume all UFO-related phenomena are caused by Satan & their deceiving minions?

          3. I kinda of agree with emlong though
            Imagine being lead into a dark room blindfolded. Then the blindfold whips off seemingly by it’s own power and you stand in front of an illuminated mirror and a disembodied voice says “Look inside to see your world’s future.” You see a world that looks like Mars.

            If the world does go the way of Mars, who will send little robots to an extinct Earth to pick up rocks?

            …sorry I treaded into such a deep pool there…

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