UFO aficionados recently got excited about a strange shape that appeared in images captured by NASA's Stereo mission. Was it aliens? Nope. It was a reflection.
Stereo, short for Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, launched as twin space observatories in 2006 on a mission to study the sun and coronal mass ejections. One of the spacecraft is still in operation. Its HI2 telescope captured a nifty view that included Venus and Earth in late February. That's when the mysterious wheel-like shape appeared.
UFO debunker UFO of Interest tackled the visual phenomenon in early March, calling it out as a "recurring image artifact caused by internal reflections of a planet." NASA confirmed that diagnosis in a Friday update on the Stereo website.
"The strange looking geometrical 'object' is actually an internal reflection of the planet Venus within the telescope optics," NASA said in the update.
This isn't the first (and won't be the last) time this sort of reflection has appeared in Stereo's field of view. An annotated look at Stereo data from March 12 shows the Lagoon Nebula, Venus, Earth and the light artifact, which looks like a steering wheel.
It's easy to see how a casual observer could get excited by this weird space blip. In time-lapse movies, the wheel looks like it's traveling through space. It also bears a slight resemblance to some circular sci-fi creations, like the Deep Space Nine space station from the Star Trek series of the same name.
For more fun with internal reflections, visit the Stereo image artifacts page, a delightful collection of images with strange-looking but completely explainable visual artifacts.
Cosmic dead ringers: 27 super strange-looking space objects27 Photos