The Martian dust has barely had time to settle after the landing of NASA's Curiosity rover, and already the robotic vehicle has inadvertently generated multiple conspiracy theories and hoaxes. The latest is a fabricated photo of two suns setting on Mars.
As a member of the same solar system as Earth, Mars, of course, orbits a single sun. Nonetheless, the double sunset image, which was supposedly captured in the past few days by the Curiosity rover, has spread around the Web and is causing confusion about just what it could be showing.
If the two suns look oddly familiar, you might be a "Star Wars" fan. Turns out, the image is a photo of an actual Martian sunset taken by NASA's Spirit rover in 2005 overlain with the double sunset that appears on the planet Tatooine in the film "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" (LucasFilm, 1977).
Phil Plait, an astronomer and creator of the Bad Astronomy blog, identified the sources of the fictitious image in a blog post. "It may be this picture was created as a joke and got out into the wild, or maybe it was done on purpose to fool people," Plait wrote. [What Would Earth Be Like with Two Suns?]
Either way, it has become clear that a trend is underway.
A few days ago, Plait debunked another highly-circulated alleged photo of the Mars skyline, this one showing the Red Planet's landscape at twilight with Earth, Venus, and Jupiter near-aligned in the sky. It was actually a computer-rendered view created using planetarium software.
And a few days before that, actual Curiosity photos raised questions when a hazy, distant object mysteriously appeared and then disappeared in consecutive images taken by the rover. The much-discussed "anomaly" turned out not to be a sign of alien activity, but rather the plume of dust kicked up by the sky crane that delivered the rover close to the Martian surface, then veered off and struck the surface around 2,000 feet (600 meters) away.
With Curiosity photos beaming Earthward for at least the next two years, expect to see and hear many more hoaxes and conspiracy theories.