NASA says Mars 'rainbow' spotted in Perseverance photo isn't a rainbow

Paging J.J. Abrams: Your favorite cinematic technique made a cameo appearance on Mars.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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This bit of lens flare from a NASA Perseverance rover camera looks like a rainbow.


When you think of lens flare, you might think of flare-tastic J.J. Abrams blockbuster movies. Now you should also think of Mars.

The NASA Perseverance rover team took to Twitter this week to do a little debunking. A rover image from April 4 that appeared to show a lovely rainbow curving over the Martian landscape had been making the rounds on social media. But that's not a rainbow; it's just a camera artifact.

NASA traced the not-a-rainbow's appearance to lens flare. "Rainbows aren't possible here. Rainbows are created by light reflected off of round water droplets, but there isn't enough water here to condense, and it's too cold for liquid water in the atmosphere," said a tweet from NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover account.

The camera that snapped the image is a rear hazard-avoidance camera that helps the rover scope out what's going on behind it, especially if it needs to drive backward. Perseverance is also equipped with front hazard-avoidance cameras that have sunshades to prevent lens flare. "Sunshades weren't considered essential on my back Hazcams, so you can see scattered light artifacts in their images," the rover said in a follow-up NASA tweet.

It might be disappointing to hear that there aren't any rainbows on Mars, but there are plenty of other fantastic and very real sights, like weird rocks and the pioneering Ingenuity helicopter, which is closing in on what NASA hopes will be the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

What we've learned is that it's not all puppies and rainbows on Mars. In fact, there are no puppies or rainbows on Mars at all.

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