February 28, 2012

"Light beam" from Maya pyramid

Does Mayan photo show a sign from gods ... or iPhone glitch?

One expert technician says it's a classic error—but still, it's 'an awesome image!'

By Natalie Wolchover
When Hector Siliezar visited the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza with his wife and kids in 2009, he snapped three iPhone photos of El Castillo, a pyramid that once served as a sacred temple to the Mayan god Kukulkan. A thunderstorm was brewing near the temple, and Siliezar was trying to capture lightning crackling dramatically over the ruins.

In the first two images, dark clouds loom above the pyramid, but nothing is amiss. However, in the third photo, a powerful beam of light appears to shoot up from the pyramid toward the heavens, and a thunderbolt flashes in the background.
Message or glitch?According to Jonathon Hill, a research technician and mission planner at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University, which operates many of the cameras used during NASA's Mars missions, it is almost definitely the latter. Hill works with images of the Martian surface taken by rovers and satellites, as well as data from Earth-orbiting NASA instruments, and is fully versed in the wide range of potential image artifacts and equipment errors.

He says the "light beam" in the Mayan temple photo is a classic case of such an artifact—a distortion in an image that arises from the way cameras bounce around incoming light.
Comment:  For more on the Maya, see "Mayan Apocalypse" in Chevrolet Commercial and Maya Excluded from "2012" Tourism.

Below:  "El Castillo, a Mayan temple on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, with a mysterious 'light beam' emerging from the top."

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