Emerging Tech

Mars Photo Probably Shows a 'Cosmic Ray Hit,' Not an Underground Alien Base

NASA

An image transmitted from Mars to Earth by NASA's Curiosity rover has some alien enthusiasts seeing the (artificial) light about the possibility of life on Mars. The image, visible at the raw images database from NASA's jet propulsion laboratory, depicts what appears to be a white speck of something in its upper left-hand portion. Curiosity snapped the image shortly after arriving at the "The Kimberley" waypoint on April 2. Over the past few days, UFO-spotting blogs have picked up the image as a sign that something ... is out there.

UFO Sightings Daily's Scott C. Waring, for instance, wrote this over the weekend about the image:

An artificial light source was seen this week in this NASA photo which shows light shining upward from...the ground. This could indicate there there is intelligent life below the ground and uses light as we do. This is not a glare from the sun, nor is it an artifact of the photo process. Look closely at the bottom of the light. It has a very flat surface giving us 100% indiction 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. 

And YouTube user Thelifebeyondearth set the image to new age music. In one close up of the image, the user writes, "this close up seems to reveal a hole or shadow beneath the light...could it be an underground base."

So what is it? The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has yet to respond officially to press requests (including ours) for some context here, but a few people who would know have weighed in already. As NBC News spotted, one JPL employee said that the light was probably a "cosmic ray hit," an explanation that Surrey Space Centre's Doug Ellison agrees with. 

"Cosmic ray hits" are a kind of strange space phenomenon. Essentially, space is full of cosmic rays, or high-speed atom fragments. They constantly bombard the Earth, although we don't really see them. They're almost certainly responsible for flashes of light experienced by astronauts in space, most famously on the Apollo missions. As it turns out, those exposures are not great for long-term eye health. In the case of the light "flash" above, the going explanation posits, the cosmic ray impacted Curiosity as it took the image seen here. 

So are aliens shining lights up from their secret underground lairs on Mars? Almost certainly not. But that doesn't mean NASA isn't in the middle of some cool projectsto explore the possibility of life beyond Earth. There are even some exciting actual discoveries on Mars itself, like this recent evidence that there might currently be flowing water on our neighbor planet.

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