Intelligent Life Found on Mars! (Well, Not Exactly)

Mars is back in the news again. On its way to the base of Mount Sharp, the Mars Curiosity Rover snapped yet another controversial photo – this time, it captured a picture of a UFO landing nearby.

NASA claims that the bright spot in the first photo (on the left) is a hot pixel, which is a bright spot that appears on an image when camera sensors get hot during long exposures. NASA claims they appear often on Curiosity’s images.

Okay. Everyone can accept that explanation. Hot pixels happen even here on Earth. But the second image on the right was snapped only 31 seconds after the first image, and it appears to look like a shiny UFO descending off in the distance. But this time, NASA says it’s a cosmic ray strike.

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We’re all rational adults here, right? But doesn’t that seem like an absolutely amazing coincidence? I mean, putting all sanity aside, put these pictures side by side with a 31 second time frame and yes, it does look like a UFO is landing on Mars.

This is not the first time that the rovers have sent back strange images from Mars, and I’m guessing that if you’re a rover and you’re crawling around on any planet in the solar system taking zillions of pictures, you’re going to photograph strange tricks of light and questionable rock formations now and then.

For example, just this past April, Curiosity photographed a mysterious bright light shining off in the distance.

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The same light appeared in pictures taken on two different days. One NASA explanation was a distant shiny rock. Another explanation involved a spot of light shining through the vent hole of a leaky camera housing. And, of course, a cosmic ray was offered as an explanation, too. But that last explanation was hard to swallow when the same light was found on two separate images, taken on two different days with the same instrument.

One website that shall remain unnamed claimed that this was an “artificial light source” that could indicate that “there is intelligent life below ground and they use light as we do.” Sigh.

In my recollection, all this fuss about Mars began in earnest when the Viking 1 orbiter captured the famous Face on Mars back in 1976.

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Rumor spread like wildfire when this image hit the news stands. This rocky face was located in the Cydonia region of Mars, and was immediately dubbed a remnant of an ancient civilization. Eventually, NASA dismissed it as a trick of light and shadows, but to this day it gives me the willies.

Here are a few other photographs of Mars that I’ve run across over the years. Isn’t that a Martian Squirrel captured by Curiosity in September 2012? It sure looks like the squirrels I have in my backyard.

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And then there’s this fossilized iguana captured by Curiosity in November of 2013. According to another website that shall remain unnamed, there have actually been 10-15 animals found on Mars, and they speculate that NASA is releasing them. Some excitable conspiracy theorists “fear that NASA is planting life on the planet for scientific testing.”

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Another fave of mine is this picture taken by the rover Spirit in January 2004. You can’t help but see the mysterious lady walking down a Martian hillside.

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But here’s my all-time favorite Martian photograph! It’s a selfie of me and Curiosity that I took during my Mars exploration mission in 2012. What a great adventure that was!

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Pareidolia is the human tendency to see random images and turn them into something significant, which is why you can occasionally find people selling an image of the Virgin Mary seared into a grilled cheese sandwich. This psychological phenomenon may explain away some of the images that conspiracy theorists see when they search through the images from Mars. But as far as I’m concerned, I won’t be convinced until I’m holding a live, kicking Martian squirrel in the palms of my space gloves.

– By Barbara Millicent Roberts
Astro Babe Mars Correspondent

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Mars at Opposition

Last night was the big night to see Mars up close. Ok – relatively close anyway. What is opposition you ask? When Mars is at opposition it means that it is directly opposite the sun relative to us. As you can see here, on April 8th the sun is directly opposite Mars from our perspective. It’s about 57 million miles away, not the closest it can get, but not too bad.

Mars at Opposition
Mars at Opposition

As you can see, in 2003 Mars was very close, at 35 million miles. What this means for us observers is that Mars is bigger! We’re able to see more surface features and polar ice caps. Some may even be able to see clouds!

Mars at Opposition
Mars at Opposition

I went out tonight with my 90mm refractor. Unfortunately I didn’t bring a powerful enough eyepiece outside with me and by the time I went back in to get one the clouds rolled in. Such is observing in Wisconsin.

Try observing Mars this week – do some sketching at the eyepiece! Try adding a filter, green to bring out the polar ice caps. You could get out your smart phone and try some through the eyepiece photography! If you’re really busy you could spot Mars over the trees on your way home and take a moment to smile at our planetary neighbor.

It’s all good.

Amy

A Trip to Mars

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An actual piece of Mars rests on my lap during a visit to the UW-Madison Geology Museum. I was so nervous someone had to hold me!

Could their be a more exciting way to kick off my new collaboration with the Astro Babes than to bring you photos of an actual piece of Mars?!

On Sept. 24, I accompanied the Astro Babes to a lecture in Madison that was part of the “Biosignatures: What Does Life Leave Behind?” exhibit that hopes to excite public curiosity about astrobiology research at UW-Madison. A presentation entitled “How to build an Astrobiology Exhibit in 1,272 Easy Steps” was followed by a reception in the museum that not only featured a piece of Mars, but a rare opportunity to hold a piece of it in your hands.

The main attraction for this event was a viewed fall of the Tissint meteorite that is thought to have broken off the Red Planet around 700,000 years ago and witnessed landing in Morocco in 2011.

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Here I’m looking at the 700,000-year-old piece of Mars that the museum recently acquired. This is one of the five rare observed falls from Mars.

The collector that sold this piece to the museum also lent a piece to the museum that lecture attendees could hold in their hand. Unlike most meteorites found on Earth, this piece was very light and had no real fusion crust. It was identified Martian by testing the “atmosphere” that was trapped inside air pockets in the rock.

NASA funds the Wisconsin Astrobiology Research Consortium and other teams to develop new tools and methods for detecting evidence of past life on Earth. This research will then help scientists recognize signs of life in other places such as Mars or Titan because we won’t find any dinosaur bones there.

Martian rocks are a rarity here on Earth today, but I plan to personally bring back many more rocks for research on my first round-trip mission to Mars.

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By Barbara Millicent Roberts
Astro Babe Mars Correspondent

New Member of the Team

barbie-head-shotThe Astro Babes want to welcome a new guest correspondent to our team! Barbara Millicent Roberts, an astronaut and notable Martian expert from Willows, Wisconsin, will be sharing her expertise in future blogs on our website.

Often referred to as “Mars Explorer Barbie,” Ms. Roberts officially began her assignment in collaboration with NASA in August. Her assignment coincided with the first anniversary of NASA’s Curiosity rover landing on Mars.

The Astro Babes want to express their gratitude to Ms. Roberts for agreeing to act as our official Mars Correspondent, and we look forward to her contributions in the near future.