Conspiracy theorists have worked themselves up into a lather over a mysterious blotch visible in the first black and white photographs taken from NASA's new Curiosity rover as it landed on Mars.


The faint but distinctive dot which can be seen on the horizon of the Red Planet was taken by a device on the $2.5 billion robot called its Hazcam and relayed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter back to Earth.


However, two hours later when the satellite made another pass over Curiosity, the rover sent another batch of images that revealed that the blotch had eerily disappeared.


The Internet was instantly awash with theories as to why the two photographs would be different, especially as the rover, which is the largest spacecraft ever sent to another planet, landed on its own with no direct control from NASA mission control.


Furthermore, the rover was acting autonomously, meaning that scientists did not command the robot to photograph the exact views containing the blotch.

The most prominent reason discussed online for the mysterious blot is that Curiosity managed to photograph over the course of 200 milliseconds the crash-landing of the spacecraft that carried the rover to the Martian surface.


However, one engineer working on the project told the LA Times that 'would be an insane coincidence' and that the shape on the horizon was most likely dirt on the lens.

Regardless, scientists have acknowledged the fact that the blotch is there 'And then it's not' said Sarah Milkovich of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge to the LA Times.


Yesterday morning, JPL engineers surveyed the debris from Curiosity's landing in a photograph entitled the 'crime scene' photograph.


To the southwest of the rover was the parachute that had slowed the rover's descent and to the southeast was the heat shield that Curiosity jettisoned before it began its controlled jet propelled descent.


To the northwest was the craft that had aided that landing known as the 'sky crane' which lowered Curiosity to the ground from 66-feet above the Martian surface, before shooting away to crash land.


The satellite photograph showed tht the 'Sky crane' craft had landed 2,000-feet away from the rover in the direction the camera would have been pointing when it crashed.

This evidence has led NASA scientists to consider the original unlikely theory.


'I don't think that you can rule it out,' said Curiosity mission manager Michael Watkins.

'It bears looking into.'


This new unknown image on Mars bears similarities to the infamous 'face' that was taken by Viking 1 on July 25, 1976, that had the appearance of a humanoid face.


Sparking conspiracy theorists into believing that the face was the work of an extraterrestrial intelligence, the image was later debunked by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor as simply an example of pareidolia.


While scientists and amateur theorists get in on the shape's guessing game, other photographs beamed back by the rover - 352 miles through space - have sparked further curious review by scientists who say they hit far closer to home.


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08.09.2012 (624 days ago)
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