The question of the existence of extraterrestrial life never seems to waver and, this time around, it revolves around the planet Mercury.
According to reports, theorists have been pondering over a cloaked spaceship that looks like it is orbiting Mercury after a camera onboard NASA's STEREO spacecraft captured a wave of electronically charged material shooting out from the sun and colliding with the planet on Thursday. The images are of a "coronal mass ejection" (CME), suggesting that alien life could exist within our solar system.
The footage of the collision on YouTube has generated hundreds of thousands of hits, permeated with user comments that speculate that the material shot out is actually a spaceship.
"It's cylindrical on either side and has a shape in the middle. It definitely looks like a ship to me, and very obviously, it's cloaked," commented YouTube-user siniXster. "What object in space cloaks itself and doesn't appear until it gets hit by energy from the sun?"
To find out the more scientific explanation of what exactly the material is, however, Natalie Wolchover of Life's Little Mysteries reached out to scientists in the solar physics branch at the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), who analyze data from the Heliospheric Imager-1 (HI-1), the camera that shot the footage in question.
Head NRL group scientist Russ Howard and lead ground systems engineer Nathan Rich told Wolchover that the material is actually Mercury itself, "where the planet was on the previous day" as it travels through the solar system on its natural gravitational path.
The way the NRL scientists came to that conclusion, according to Howard and Rich, was by removing as much background light as possible to make the coronal mass ejection stand out against the bright glare of space. Background light could only be determined by calculating the average amount of light that entered each camera pixel on the day the coronal mass ejection occurred and the average amount of light that entered each camera pixel on the previous day. Light appearing in the pixels on both days is considered to be background light and is removed from the CME footage. The remaining light is then enhanced to make the actual CME stand out.
"When [this averaging process] is done between the previous day and the current day and there is a feature like a planet," Rich explained in an email, "this introduces dark (negative) artifacts in the background where the planet was on the previous day, which then show up as bright areas in the enhanced image."
Take a look at the video of the CME. Is it an actual spaceship or just a data-processed artifact?