Local scientist to update findings from ‘Curiosity’



TAIPEI — A Taiwanese scientist operating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) rover “Curiosity” will share the team’s latest findings in Taipei on May 4, including details about a mysterious light detected on the planet. Yen Jen, who helped design Curiosity and is currently operating it by remote control, will brief local astronomical buffs at the Taipei Astronomical Museum on what the rover has found over the past two years, the museum said. The free lecture will be open to 200 people.

Curiosity, a 899 kilogram-craft that is an integral part of NASA’s US$2.5 billion unmanned Mars project, landed on the planet on Aug. 6, 2012.

Though coverage of the rover’s exploits has been relatively muted since the fanfare over its successful landing died down, interest was rekindled in early April when Curiosity caught sight of a mysterious light, said museum official Chen Chun-liang.

Images taken by Curiosity on April 2 and 3 contained bright spots, which NASA said might have been caused by the sun reflecting off a rock or 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,” said NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Justin Maki in a NASA statement released April 8.

“These can be caused by cosmic-ray hits or sunlight glinting from rock surfaces, as the most likely explanations.” Still, the observation has raised speculation about alien life, which the museum has played on along with the general interest in the rover’s mission to promote interest in astronomy.

“Hopefully public curiosity surrounding the Curiosity can bring more attention to the field,” Chen said.

Those interested in registering for Yen’s presentation can go to http://ticket app.tam.gov.tw/activity/cp.php?actno=234.