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Why Mars “Lights” Probably Digital Anomalies

© 2014 by Linda Moulton Howe


“The “lights” are only in the images from the Right Navcam,
while the Left Navcam took images at same time and show no lights. ”

- Mark Wood, retired U. S. Naval Flight Officer

The NASA Curiosity Rover on Mars took these two photographs by its RIGHT Navigation
Camera (Navcam) in the first week of April 2014. Top image was taken first on Martian
sol 588 at 9:04:28 — “light” in upper left and Curiosity rover in lower right.
The next Martian day (below) is sol 589 at 10:00:03, a similar “light” is visible near
center in another RIGHT Navcam image. See: NASA Curiosity raw images.


April 10, 2014 Albuquerque, New Mexico - This week the Curiosity rover reached what Mars planetary scientists are calling “the Kimberley” after a region of the same name in Australia. The sandstone rocks in the region are different from the mudstone that Curiosity examined earlier in its trip. The rover’s drill might collect some of the sandstone rock samples.

But more than rock samples in the first week of April, Curiosity has been in the news because of images it captured by its RIGHT Navigation Camera (Navcam) — but no bright object in LEFT Navcam.

Several different hypothesis surfaced from JPL image specialists including it's “an image artifact due to a cosmic ray hitting the right-side navigation camera on the Curiosity rover.” But no explanation about why cosmic rays would hit the right-side Navcam at almost the same time on two different consecutive days.

Several emails from Earthfiles viewers offered reasons why the bright spots were probably digital drop outs or other digital artifacts.

Subject: Unidentified “Light” On Mars
Date: April 8, 2014 10:24:56 PM MDT


Thanks for your good reporting and for putting this Mars "light" report out for review, along with the link to raw images.

This appears to be a digital drop out or other artifact.

The "light" was shot from 2 different angles by one camera. There are two navigation cameras with pictures taken at the same time showing the same landscapes, yet only one shows the "light".

The light is from the right navigation camera. The left does not show it.

The times are:
sol 588, 09:04:28
sol 589, 10:00:03

The "light" can be seen in images from the right, but not the left navigation camera.

Image manipulation by NASA or an intelligence on Mars can explain the discrepancies between cameras, but, at this time, I am concluding that this is an artifact in the image caused by an old camera that has been on Mars for many years.


Further Hypothesis by Retired Navy Captain

I forwarded the above email to retired U. S. Naval Flight Officer Captain Mark Wood for his analysis. Mark holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech and a Master’s Degree in Ocean Engineering from Florida Atlantic University. He is also a Registered Professional Mechanical Engineer (P.E.). He was screened for Aviation Command and was assigned as the Executive Officer of the first Reserve Patrol Squadron to be assigned the new P-3C Update III as well as the Commissioning Commanding Officer of a Reserve Patrol Squadron Augment Unit (VPSAU).

Mark Wood emailed these comments:

Linda - I think your Earthfiles viewer makes a very valid point. Here are two different raw images taken in consecutive days by the LEFT navigation camera (Navcam) in the top two images in this order: Sol 588 at 09:04:03 UTC, and next day Sol 589 at 10:00:03 UTC.

The third and fourth images were taken by the RIGHT Navcam on Sol 588 at 09:04:03 UTC, and next day Sol 589 at 10:00:03 UTC and these two show the bright anomaly.


Sol 588 at 09:04:03 UTC
LEFT Navigation Camera (Navcam)
Curiosity Rover

Curiosity Rover's LEFT navigation camera image taken Sol 588 at 09:04:03 UTC.


Sol 589 at 10:00:03 UTC
LEFT Navigation Camera (Navcam)
Curiosity Rover

Curiosity Rover's LEFT navigation camera image taken Sol 589 at 10:00:03 UTC.


Sol 588 at 09:04:03 UTC
RIGHT Navigation Camera (Navcam)
Curiosity Rover

Curiosity Rover's RIGHT navigation camera image taken Sol 588 at 09:04:03 UTC.


Sol 589 at 10:00:03 UTC
RIGHT Navigation Camera (Navcam)
Curiosity Rover

Curiosity Rover's RIGHT navigation camera image taken Sol 589 at 10:00:03 UTC.

I concur that what we are seeing is not a light on the surface, but I disagree that it is an artifact in the right camera caused by its age. As pointed out in the viewer's email, both images with the “light” were taken by the Right Navigation Camera. Fortunately we have photos of the same areas, taken at exactly the same time by the Left Navigation Camera.


“Lights” Are Only in Right Navcam Images

The “lights” are only in the images from the Right Navcam, while the Left Navcam took images at same time and show no lights. However, if the light was caused by the age of the right camera, then it would manifest itself in a failure of several pixels in the CCD, and thus the “light” would be in the same physical location on the CCD and in the same location in every photograph taken by the right navigation camera. But this is not the case.

So, we must infer that since the location of the “light” on the CCD is varying, it must be related to another variable (or variables) that have changed. In addition, it must also be variables whose change is not effecting the Left Navcam, which is only feet away from the Right Navcam.

Possible Explanation Related to Reflections Off Curiosity Metal

I think the answer can be seen at the very bottom right corner of the two Right Navigation Camera photographs. First of all notice a couple of things. If you look at the right side of the upper edge in all four of the photographs, you will see some washout due to the sun. This can also be confirmed by looking at the shadows of the rocks on the ground indicating that the Navigation Cameras are pointing almost in the direction of the sun.

Now look at the Right Navigation Camera image taken Sol 588 at 09:04:03 UTC. There are some “bright reflections” on what I assume could be bare metal or unpainted metal on various components and structures on that side of the rover. They almost appear “white hot”. Since the lens of the camera is above all of these surfaces, it seems possible to me that a very small reflection caused by the sunlight coming down at a slight angle and shining on one of these surfaces (the bright white areas) is then being reflected up and possibly into the lens of the camera, which then ends up on the CCD and is overdriving some of the pixels on the CCD causing them to record what we see as a bright light.

This might explain:

1. The two sets of photographs were taken within an hour of each other on 2 different days, so the elevation of the sun in the sky would be almost the same, but not quite.
So we would still get the reflection off the metal surfaces, but it wouldn’t be an identical angle, it would be slightly different. That means the reflected light would strike different pixels on the CCD as the reflected rays passed through the camera lens. What we see, comparing the “lights” to the fixed background of the hills, is that the "light" has moved to the left in relation to the background from Sol 588 to Sol 589.

2. In addition, the cameras have rotated to the left from Sol 588 to Sol 599 so that the angular relationship between the lens and the reflected rays off the rover structure is different. This would again mean that as the reflected rays from each day pass through the lens, they would again impact different pixels in the CCD and thus the “lights” would be in different locations on the photos, and that is what we observe on the two photos from the Right Navigation Camera. So the combination of the rotation of the cameras, when combined with the slightly different elevation of the sun, would create a different angle of the reflected rays which would then impact different pixels in the CCD.

3. Finally, the left camera is in a different position in relation to the structures with the reflected surfaces. So, the rays from the reflected light would not strike the left lens at exactly the same point as they strike the right lens (or most likely not even strike the left lens at all). The pixels in the CCD of the left camera would not be affected, would not be reflecting back the reflections on the Right Navcam and there would not be any bright spot in the left Navcam looking at the same geographic point at the same time.


Some Viewers Thought of Martian Dust Devils

See Spirit video, May 15, 2005.

A Martian dust devil spinning across Gusev Crater a little before noon in sol 486
(May 15, 2005). The dust devil traveled about 16 feet/second for a mile.
Image by Spirit Rover, NASA/JPL.

More Information:

For further information about Mars rover research, please see reports below from the Earthfiles Archive.

• 02/05/2014 — Lawsuit Against NASA Based On Opportunity Rover Raw B&W Images
• 06/14/2011 — Part 2: Google Mars Update with Planetary Scientist James Bell
• 06/11/2011 — Part 1: Is This A Structure On Mars? Planetary Scientist Replies.
• 12/24/2009 — Does the Allen Hills Meteorite from Mars Contain Fossilized Microbial Life?
• 05/29/2008 — Phoenix Robotic Arm Preparing to Dig Into Martian Permafrost
• 12/24/2005 — Part 3 - Peculiar Phenomenon: Early United States Efforts to Collect and Analyze Flying Discs
• 08/24/2005 — Dust Devils and "Lemon Rinds" on Mars
• 03/26/2005 — Spirit Rover Finds Magnesium Sulfate Near "Larry's Lookout" in Columbia Hills on Mars.
• 03/20/2005 — Astronaut John Young: "The Moon Can Save Earth's Civilization."
• 03/04/2005 — Subterranean Life On Earth - and Mars?
• 02/26/2005 — Mars Spirit Rover Discovered Boundary Between Gusev Lava and Older, Water-Soaked Rocks in "Columbia Hills"
• 04/02/2004 — Updates on Spirit and Opportunity Rovers
• 03/31/2004 — Methane on Mars - Biology? Volcanic?
• 03/11/2004 — Updated - Mars Spirit and Opportunity Sol 65 and Sol 46
• 03/08/2004 — Updates from NASA's Rovers and ESA's Mars Express
• 03/05/2004 — Part 3 - Mars: A Sulfate Salty Planet - Could It Have Sulfate-Loving Microbes?
• 03/03/2004 — Part 1 - Mars: Meridiani Planum Was Once "Drenched With Water and Habitable"
• 03/03/2004 — Part 2 - Mars: Scientific Challenge of Identifying Substances
• 03/01/2004 — Opportunity Grinds Bedrock; Spirit Ready to Grind "Humphrey"
• 02/21/2004 — Update On Mars with Cornell Astronomer Steve Squyers,Principal Investigator on the Mars Rover Missions
• 02/18/2004 — Distorted Distance Perspective in Martian Rover Camera Images
• 02/11/2004 — Updated - Part 2: Opportunity Finds Martian Bedrock Has Lots of Sulfur and Small Spherical Rocks
• 02/03/2004 — Planet 150 Light Years from Earth Has Oxygen and Carbon Atmosphere
• 01/31/2004 — Opportunity Rolls Onto Martian Soil and Confirms Hematite
• 01/31/2004 — Is There Living Green Algae in the Gusev Crater on Mars?
• 01/28/2004 — Mars - First Bedrock Seen Beyond Earth
• 02/10/2004 — Part 1 - Opportunity Investigating Bedrock and Spirit's Headed for Bonneville Crater
• 01/24/2004 — Updated - Spirit Alive, But in "Critical" Condition. Mars Express Sees Water Ice and Ancient River Channel
• 01/21/2004 — Spirit Rover's First Martian Soil Analysis Has Surprises
• 01/09/2004 — Robotic "Geologists" on Mars
• 12/18/2003 — Beagle 2 Spacecraft Will Land on Mars Christmas Day.


Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover:



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