Is the image caught on camera by NASA spacecraft a cloaked UFO spaceship lurking near Mercury or just an after image of the planet itself?
A video of the bright object posted by YouTube user "siniXster" had over 2.4 million views by Friday with many wondering if aliens are already amongst us.
U.S. officials dismissed the speculation and said the yellow circle captured was Mercury itself.
The video footage taken by the Heliospheric Imager-1 (HI-1), a camera system aboard NASA's STEREO spacecraft, managed to capture what looks like a large cylindrical object orbiting the planet Mercury. The footage shows a coronal mass ejection spewed from the sun last week. The solar flare struck Mercury and seemed to have hit another object nearby that was only revealed after it was hit by the CME. This behavior prompted UFO enthusiasts as a sign that the object was clearly an alien spaceship.
"What object cloaks itself and doesn't appear until it gets hit by energy from the sun?" asked siniXster. "Holy smokes. That is definitely some sort of manufactured object."
The poster identified himself only as Daniel, a 42-year-old resident of Detroit, Mich.
Turns out, the actual explanation for the mysterious object doesn't involve little green men. Scientists at the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) say that this image is actually Mercury itself. According to NRL's Russ Howard, head scientist, and Nathan Rich, lead ground systems engineer, the UFO is simply an image of Mercury from the previous day and was visible because of the way the telescoped data is processed.
NRL scientists remove background light when processing telescope data to make the glow of the coronal mass ejection more visible against the bright glare from space. The scientists identify background light from footage captured from the telescope the day before. The background light is eliminated from the footage and the rest of the light is enhanced.
"When [this averaging process] is done between the previous day and the current day and there is a feature like a planet, this introduces dark (negative) artifacts in the background where the planet was on the previous day, when then show up as bright areas in the enhanced image," said Rich.
In essence the UFO is really just a visual after-effect or a ghost image of Mercury that was photographed from the day before.
"It's a complicated effect," Rich told the Huffington Post. "It's basically the background that is removed from the image to bring out the faint coronal signal. It's a negative imprint on the background."
So it looks like Earth is safe from cloaked alien ships once again. Check out the video footage below and judge for yourself.