This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

Each morning, I make time to flick through uncooked photographs of Mars despatched again by NASA’s rovers. I ooh and ah over the rock formations, and typically spot one thing goofy, like a mysterious black object hovering in a Perseverance rover image from Sunday. 

The picture comes from Percy’s left navigation digital camera. It exhibits a placing 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 discussion of the image in a gaggle devoted to Mars resulted in some humorous takes on what it is likely to be, like an ant or a plastic bag. The black form resembles a speck of filth or a bit of particles flying over Jezero Crater, but it surely’s not any of these issues.

The darkish object within the sky would not truly exist. It is a results of a digital camera artifact difficulty referred to as “unhealthy” pixels. “They’re attributable to micron-sized items of particles on the detector. Most/all imagers have these sorts of artifacts,” imaging scientist Justin Maki stated in an e-mail assertion from NASA JPL. “They’re usually solely noticeable when the digital camera acquires photographs of the sky or some in any other case flat radiometric floor.”

In the event you’re not satisfied, take a look at one other left Navcam picture from Sunday. The identical darkish streak seems, however this time it’s in the middle of a sandy landscape.

One other shot from Percy’s left Navcam. Additionally not an unidentified object on Mars.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Crimson circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

The bad-pixels difficulty has reared its head at different instances. NASA’s Curiosity rover, which is exploring the Gale Crater in a special space of Mars, snapped a similar sky “object” in early October. As with the Percy picture, it appeared as a darkish spot floating within the air.

Perseverance digital camera group members addressed the “odd tiny black speck” artifacts in a weblog put up final 12 months 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 photographs despatched again by the rovers as a result of the pictures 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 debris and a shiny piece of foil left over from its touchdown operations.

Digital camera specks are a truth 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 nearly each day. Wow.

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