NASA’s Curiosity rover recently rolled to a new vantage point on Mars and started snapping photos to send home, and one shot seems to show that some underground-dwelling martians may have left the porch light on.
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At least that’s where the Internet’s well-established communities of UFO spotters immediately focused their speculation, leading Doug Ellison of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab to do some immediate debunking via Twitter. Ellison points out that the eerie light, which really does appear to be emanating from a hole in the planet’s surface, does not appear in a second image of the same spot taken at the same moment by another of the rover’s cameras. Ellison says rather than subterranean Martian condos, the strange light can likely be blamed on stray cosmic rays that can sometimes be seen in space.
— Doug Ellison (@doug_ellison) April 8, 2014
Cosmic rays are basically high-energy subatomic particles of unknown origin that float through space. Astronauts have reported spotting flashes of light attributed to cosmic rays going back as far as the early Apollo missions.
Of course, the more conspiracy minded among us dismiss this explanation as part of a cover-up involving the discovery of alien life, or maybe lizard people or something. The same holds true for anything odd or even slightly out of place that Curiosity happens to catch sight of. A few months back, an out of place rock that was moved by contact with Curiosity’s wheels sparked speculation that the rock was actually some sort of growing, fungus-like organism. One self-proclaimed astrobiologist even went so far as to file a motion with a federal court in an attempt to compel NASA to release the “truth” about the strange rock.
NASA has yet to issue a formal response to the light spot. Curiosity will continue to check out its new environment at “The Kimberley” waypoint in the meantime.