NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover discovered a strangely glowing object that seemed to hover just above the surface of the Red Planet earlier this month.
While glittering on Mars aroused people's imagination in social media, it was probably just sunlight, a cosmic ray, or a camera artifact. Days later, however, the rover discovered something else – and it could be a long-awaited signal for possible microbial life on or inside the planet.
The glowing object was shot with the camera ̵
Here it is enlarged:
It will not appear on any of the previously or subsequently captured images at intervals of approximately 13 seconds. So if it was an object, it moved quickly. More likely, it was nothing out of the ordinary.
"In the thousands of images we have received from Curiosity, we see images with bright spots almost every week," said Justin Maki of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2014, a similar flash of light made headlines. "These may be the most likely explanation caused by cosmic rays or sunlight shining from rock surfaces."
The flash of light was probably not a sign of activity on the planet.
But last week something else was discovered on Mars that may be a sign of life: methane. The New York Times reported that Curiosity has discovered a methane increase that, if confirmed, could be indicative of microbial life hidden beneath the surface of Mars.
There were other possible explanations:
The rover conducted follow-up tests this weekend through a trial that Confirm results, with further analysis running. NASA said the Rover had discovered methane in the past and the planet seemed to have seasonal peaks and dips.
Definitive answers might be hard to come by.
"With our recent measurements, we can not say whether the source of methane is biology or geology or even old or modern," said Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in a news release.
NASA coordinates with scientists collaborating with the European Space Agency's trace gas orbiter orbiting Mars to determine the origin of the gas.
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