This story is a part of Welcome to Mars, our sequence exploring the purple planet.
Each morning, I make time to flick through uncooked photos of Mars despatched again by NASA’s rovers. I ooh and ah over the rock formations, and generally spot one thing goofy, like a mysterious black object hovering in a Perseverance rover picture from Sunday.
The picture comes from Percy’s left navigation digital camera. It reveals a hanging rock-strewn panorama and a hazy sky the place the darkish object seems.
So what is going on on right here? It isn’t aliens. A Reddit dialogue of the picture in a bunch devoted to Mars resulted in some humorous takes on what it is perhaps, like an ant or a plastic bag. The black form resembles a speck of grime or a bit of particles flying over Jezero Crater, but it surely’s not any of these issues.
The darkish object within the sky does not truly exist. It is a results of a digital camera artifact subject referred to as “unhealthy” pixels. “They’re brought on by micron-sized items of particles on the detector. Most/all imagers have these sorts of artifacts,” imaging scientist Justin Maki mentioned in an e-mail assertion from NASA JPL. “They’re usually solely noticeable when the digital camera acquires photos of the sky or some in any other case flat radiometric floor.”
When you’re not satisfied, try one other left Navcam picture from Sunday. The identical darkish streak seems, however this time it is in the midst of a sandy panorama.
The bad-pixels subject has reared its head at different occasions. NASA’s Curiosity rover, which is exploring the Gale Crater in a special space of Mars, snapped the same sky “object” in early October. As with the Percy picture, it appeared as a darkish spot floating within the air.
Perseverance digital camera workforce members addressed the “odd tiny black speck” artifacts in a weblog put up final yr in relation to the rover’s mast-mounted cameras. Picture processors are conscious of the issue pixels and proper for them. We see the specks within the uncooked photos despatched again by the rovers as a result of the photographs have not been cleaned up but.
Perseverance has been in residence on Mars since early 2021 and it is already witnessed loads of real-life oddball objects, like this spaghetti-like bundle of particles and a shiny piece of foil left over from its touchdown operations.
Digicam specks are a reality of life for the Mars rovers. Our expertise is wonderful, but it surely’s not excellent. If something, it is a reminder of simply how spectacular an achievement the rovers are. Wheeled laboratories. On Mars. Sending snapshots residence virtually each day. Wow.