Thu, May 01, 2014 - Page 3 News List

Curiosity handler to hold Mars talk in Taipei

Staff writer, with CNA

A Taiwanese scientist operating NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is to share his team’s latest findings in Taipei on Sunday, including details about a mysterious light the rover has detected on the Red Planet.

Yen Jen (嚴正), who helped design Curiosity and helps operate it by remote control, will brief astronomy buffs at the Taipei Astronomical Museum on what the rover has found on Mars over the past two years, the museum said. The free lecture will be open to 200 people.

Curiosity, a 899kg remote-contralled craft that is an integral part of NASA’s US$2.5 billion Mars exploration project, landed on the fourth planet from the sun on Aug. 6, 2012.

Though media coverage of the rover’s exploits has been relatively muted since the fanfare over its successful landing died down, interest was rekindled early last month when it recorded a mysterious light on Mars, museum official Chen Chun-liang said.

Images of the Martian landscape taken by Curiosity on April 2 and 3 contained bright spots that NASA speculates may have been caused by sunlight reflecting off a rock, or by cosmic rays striking the camera’s detector.

“In the thousands of images we’ve received from Curiosity, we see ones with bright spots nearly every week,” NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Justin Maki said in a statement released by the agency on April 8.

“These [spots] can be caused by cosmic ray hits or sunlight glinting from rock surfaces, as the most likely explanations,” the statement added.

Despite the US space agency’s explanations, the bright spots have sparked speculation about possible alien life, a topic the museum is hoping will boost general interest in the rover’s mission and in astronomy in general.

“Hopefully, the public’s interest in the Curiosity’s findings can bring more attention to the field,” Chen said.

Those interested in seeing Yen’s presentation can register to attend at: ticket-app.tam.gov.tw/activity/cp.php?actno=234.

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