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Sci-Tech

NASA Mars Curiosity rover saw a weird light, but don't freak out

The rover has seen a mysterious light like this before.

This bright light on the Mars horizon is not from aliens.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/red circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

We're all excited about NASA's Curiosity rover at the moment thanks to its intriguing discovery of a mysterious methane spike. Some of that fervor seems to be spilling over to an image the rover snapped on June 16 showing a bright blip of light on the distant horizon.

The rover snapped a series of images, and the bright blip only appears in one. But don't get your hopes up for signs of alien life on the Red Planet. We've seen this sort of light before.

There are several good explanations for the glowing spot. "It's most likely a sun glint or scattered light," NASA media relations specialist Andrew Good said. "We've seen this many times throughout the mission."  

Curiosity captured a view of a very similar glow on the horizon in 2014. NASA's Doug Ellison, who works with the rover camera, took to his personal Twitter account at the time to say that light was likely a cosmic ray hit. 

NASA describes galactic cosmic rays as "particles accelerated to near the speed of light that shoot into our solar system from other stars in the Milky Way or even other galaxies." Scientists are thinking ahead to how we can shield astronauts on Mars from the effects of radiation from cosmic rays. 

Cosmic rays are fleeting, but they have been spotted before. Apollo astronauts reported seeing "faint spots or flashes of light when the cabin was dark," a phenomenon NASA attributed to cosmic rays

If the Curiosity rover kept a scrapbook, it could file this bright blip under "Cool Things I Saw on Mars."

Originally published June 24, 9:45 a.m. PT.
Update, 10:33 a.m. PT: Adds statement from NASA.