Rodents, lizards or rocks on Mars?

By Ted Bonnitt on June 1st, 2013
Rodents, lizards or rocks on Mars?
Close up of critter on Mars is a rock.
Close up of critter on Mars is a rock.

There has been a buzz this week on the internet about the alleged photos taken of rodents and lizards on Mars by NASA's Curiosity Rover.

They're rocks.

Rocks come in all shapes and sizes. There are millions of rocks littering the surface of Mars. Thousands of landscape images have been beamed to Earth from the Curiosity, now patrolling the surface of the red planet for science discoveries.

People with a lot of extra time on their hands have been studying the fascinating, alien landscape images, looking for something out of this world.

A "lizard" image claim came out of Japan and other images have followed of what looks like a rodent walking on the surface of Mars, and even of what appears as skeletal remains.

The "rodent" claim comes from a NASA image called 'Rocknest' taken on September 28, 2012. The image is a mosaic of pictures taken by Curiosity's Mast Camera, of an area 8 x 16 feet in diameter, and selected as the site of Curiosity's first soil drilling.  

The image is corrected to make the landscape look as it would on earth, to help scientists analyze the terrain. So, this photo does not accurately represent what the terrain (and the mystery "animal" rocks) looks like on Mars.

NASA's "Rocknest" image from Mars shows how many rocks lie on the surface. Alleged "rodent" is in circle.

As you can see in "Rocknest," the surface of Mars is strewn with countless rocks of all shapes and sizes. So many in fact, that some images resemble recognizable images, like faces. It's a psychological phenomenon known as pareidolia; to see patterns in random data.

Notable examples of pareidolia include the famous face on mars, which is a mesa in the Cydonia region of Mars. Subsequent photos of the same mesa did not show any resemblance to a face.

Plenty of face-like images can be seen terrestrially on Google Earth, and perhaps you have noticed face-like images in clouds. It's all related to pareidolia.

But, who can turn down eye candy? These rocks really do resemble rodents, lizards and bones due to photographic angles and light conditions at the time that the pictures were snapped. Yet, some UFO news websites have floated the idea that a rodent was flown aboard Curiosity and released on Mars to see how long it would survive. If true, the poor creature would have never made it to the place where the photo was taken.

There may be evidence of life yet to be discovered on our neighbor planet. However, rodents, lizards and bones on Mars?

No, they're rocks.

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