Pareidolia: the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.
Mars: a red planet covered in pareidolia.
The Opportunity Mars rover may be dead, but the phenomena it helped propagate is alive and well and continuing to cause odd news stories about creatures, humanoids and strange out-of-place objects on the surface of the fourth rock from the Sun. The latest can be seen in a photograph making the usual romp across the paranormal and weird news side of the Internet showing what appears to be a piece of metal with a perfectly round hole cut into it lying on the surface of Mars as if it: a) fell off of an alien spaceship; b) was left by humans who secretly visited the planet; c) is part of an abandoned alien city slowly rising up as the soil is blown away. Or it could be a rock.
The photo was the star of a video uploaded this week on the WhatsUpInTheSky37 YouTube channel, which attributes it to a “Shamus” who apparently found it at a really cool site called Gigapan for SOL 2013 which shows panoramic views of the Martian surface that can be moved and zoomed. All of that could be more impressive than the object itself, which indeed looks like a triangular piece of metal with a perfect circle cut out that skeptics know from looking at other pareidolia-fied photos from Mars and the Moon could very well be a rock whose image is distorted by shadows and angles.
Or it could be something else.
On the “piece of a human Martian probe” side, commenters point out that it could be debris from the lander that brought Curiosity to Mars or it could have fallen to the surface from another successful or failed Mars mission. Adding a little imagination, it could be a piece of a spaceship or vehicle or other equipment from a secret mission – you know, the NASA missions to land humans on Mars that no one can talk about. There are no tire tracks or footprints around the piece, but those could easily have been blown away by the strong Martian winds, although they somehow didn’t cover up or pile sand against the object, which seems to be resting unobstructed on the Martian ground.
Going full pareidolia-plus-enhanced-imagination, commenters speculate it could be from an alien spacecraft – assuming their spacecraft crash or fall apart like ours do, even after successfully navigating accident-free for light years. Again, that panoramic view from Gigapan shows no other objects in the immediate area. Yes, that’s the case with many fossils found on Earth, but those are tissue that can deteriorate, decay and disintegrate … this is allegedly a piece of metal that survived a trip of light years.
Or a rock.
In the end, unless a rover with an arm, a robot with an arm or a human astronaut with an arm can pick up the object, inspect it closely or bring it back to Earth, we’re unarmed to do more than just speculate what this thing might be. For now, the needle on the meter is very close to ‘rock’.
Pareidolia … you’re a cruel friend.