Perseverance Captured This Image of a “Rainbow” on Mars, but it’s just a Lens Flare in the Rover’s Camera

Did the Perseverance rover capture a rainbow on Mars? This image, from the rover’s left rear Hazard Camera, sure looks like it. But alas, no. However, film director JJ Abrams would be proud.

The rover’s official Twitter account explained it best, that rainbows just aren’t possible on Mars, and this is simply a lens flare:

“Rainbows aren’t possible here. Rainbows are created by light reflected off of round water droplets, but there isn’t enough water here to condense, and it’s too cold for liquid water in the atmosphere. This arc is a lens flare.”

A lens flare is created when non-image forming bright light (such as direct sunlight) enters the lens and subsequently hits the camera’s digital sensor and scatters. Here’s another lens flare image, which also shows the recently dropped off Ingenuity helicopter:

Another lens flare image, showing the Ingenuity helicopter. NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image of the area in back of it using its onboard Rear Right Hazard Avoidance Camera. This image was acquired on Apr. 4, 2021 (Sol 43) at the local mean solar time of 14:13:44. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Atmospheric science aside, these are extremely beautiful pictures from Mars. If you’re wondering why you perhaps haven’t seen lens flares like this before from the Red Planet, there probably have been, but the quality of Perseverance’s cameras are showing so much more crisp detail in its images.

Here’s another cool lens flare image, a close-up of one of Perseverance’s wheels, also taken by one of the rear Hazcams:

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image of the area in back of it using its onboard rear left Hazard Avoidance Camera, acquired on Apr. 4, 2021 (Sol 43).
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The previous Mars Exploration Rovers had and the Opportunity rover has solar filters on most of their cameras. In addition to solar filters, Perseverance also has sunshades on the front Hazcams. This was considered mission-critical, because it needs them for driving forward (Perseverance is usually driving forward). Sunshades weren’t considered essential on the rear Hazcams, so some of those images have scattered light artifacts, such as the one below:

Additional image artifacts show up in this image (in addition to a lens flare) due to sunlight. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The lead lens flare image was taken on Sol 43 (that’s April 4, 2021 for us Earthlings).

Perseverance continues to take incredible images from ALL its cameras. See all of the raw images here.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004. She is the author of a new book on the Apollo program, "Eight Years to the Moon," which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible. Her first book, "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond.

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