Unusual light photographed on Mars

Some mysteries have valid explanations, others do not. In the case of a recent image of Mars in which an odd light appears in the distance, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has two fairly standard responses, specifically cosmic rays or a reflective surface. Moreover, according to NASA, unusual images take by scientific equipment on Mars such as the Curiosity rover are a weekly occurrence. This frequency of appearance combined with the scientific reasons that explain the light make the likelihood of other rationale less probable from a scientific perspective.

The photograph in question was taken on April 3, 2014 with one of multiple cameras, specifically a “Navcam” aboard the Mars rover named Curiosity per NASA. The picture’s file name is PIA 18077. NASA also has an image taken with an alternate camera that is said to have been taken only one second after the first image. The unusual light is not evident in that photo, however a picture taken in the same direction the previous day with the same camera that shows the light also showed a similar light. A possible reason for the light showing in one camera and not the other is a reflective surface not detectable at the different position or angle of the second camera.

Mars is exposed to more direct or intense cosmic radiation than Earth. This is measured by a radiation assessment detector or RAD on the Mars rover. More specifically, according to RAD data, the majority of radiation recorded was in the form of cosmic rays per Mars One. On Earth, the situation is different since it has a magnetic field that both repels and deflects cosmic rays. In light of this, the probability of cosmic rays affecting camera equipment on Mars certainly does seem to be higher than on Earth. Thus, if the effect of a cosmic ray on a camera is what appears to be an image of light, then the explanation is logically sound.

The idea that cosmic rays affect visual acuity of photographic images is not uncommon. To illustrate further, according to, Whalerock Industries, cosmic rays also have the potential to damage camera equipment via pixel destruction. In addition, corroboration of the effect of cosmic rays on photographic equipment similar to that used on the Mars Curiosity rover is published by the Space Science Telescope Institute.

According to Quantum Scientific Imaging, Inc., cosmic rays can create the appearance of a beam of light similar to the one evident in the Mars image in question. They specifically state the following:

“Cosmic rays are high energy particles that continually bombard the Earth.  Some cosmic rays are generated by the sun, while others originate from far outside of our solar system.  The higher above sea level you are the more likely you are to see the effects of cosmic ray hits in your images.  Cosmic ray hits on a CCD can appear as a bright cluster of pixels at a random location or as line of bright pixels at any angle depending on the path of the cosmic ray.”

Aliens, ghosts, UFOs and other unverified phenomena may exist, but in the case of the strange image of light caught by the Mars rover Curiosity, a viable scientific explanation provides substantial reason for pause before jumping to conclusions. The rigors of science cannot necessarily explain everything, but the things it does explain tend to be verified with measurable data. Moreover, by providing evidence, determining probable causal relationships, assessing statistical likelihood of events and testing equipment, scientific reasons for occurrences often carry significant explanatory weight.