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Curious Streak of Light Photographed on Mars is Probably a 'Cosmic Ray Hit'

Apr 08, 2014 12:49 PM EDT
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A curious streak of light that appears to be emitted from the surface of Mars has caused a world of speculation, with some claiming it's a sign of life on Mars, and others suggesting the flare is merely a photographic glitch on one of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover's cameras.

NASA has yet to offer an official comment on the strange streak of light, leaving the door open for anyone with a plausible solution to come forward with their ideas.

"This is not a glare from the sun, nor is it an artifact of the photo process," Scott Waring, editor of the blog UFO Sightings Daily, wrote Monday. "Look closely at the bottom of the light. It has a very flat surface giving us [100 percent indication] it is from the surface."

"This could indicate that there is intelligent life below the ground and uses light as we do," Waring wrote.

There is, obviously, no way to corroborate Waring's claim. Here is a full-resolution link to the image in question, note the faint blip of light at the 11 o'colock position. 

According to NBC News, the image with the light streak was taken by the Curiosity rover's right-hand navigation camera on April 3 after the spacecraft arrived in a new study area known as Kimberly. A similar picture taken by the same camera the next day revealed a similar streak of light. However, the rover's navigation camera operates in stereo, NBC reported, noting that the left-hand camera did not capture the streak of light on either day.

After Allan Boyle, science editor at NBC News, wrote about the mystery Mars light, he got involved in a Twitter exchange with a NASA insider that seems to shed more plausible light on the issue.

Doug Ellison, an imaging specialist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, tagged Boyle in a tweet from his personal Twitter account that explained the streak as a "cosmic ray hit."

"It's not in the left-Navcam image taken at the exact same moment," Ellison said. "It's a cosmic ray hit."

A cosmic ray hit is an extra signal presented in a digital image that was taken at the moment a cosmic ray hit the detector.  

One Twitter user asked Ellison why the image would appear in two images taken on separate days.

"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," Ellison said, later tweeting, "A bit disappointed in Alan for making a story out of a nothing. Giving air-time to nut-jobs isn't good science."

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