(Note: photo above is not the one on Mars.)
Have you seen the photograph of what looks like a flying saucer that skidded across the surface of Mars before embedding itself in a pile of dirt? You haven’t? Take a look at it here while we point out that it has been making the rounds for the past few days under headlines like “Pretty Convincing Footage Of A UFO Crash On Mars,” “Mars orbiter image shows a crashed flying saucer…. or something else entirely” and “Could this be a Crashed Disc-Shaped Object Spotted Near Ceti Mensa on Mars?” That last one is from the YouTube video of Jean Ward, a system administrator and website developer whose hobbies include “Mars anomaly hunting.” It’s that hobby that gave him a bit of notoriety on the Internet when he posted his analysis of a photo taken in 2006 by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
“This image shows spectacular layers exposed on the bottom of Candor Chasma, a large canyon in the Valles Marineris system.”
That’s the official NASA description of the photo taken by the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on December 29, 2006. (You can see many versions of it here, including one with an arrow pointing to the "saucer" location.) NASA called it the “Swirls of Rock in Candor Chasma” because of the intricate swirls of sand- and dust-sized particles approximately 4 kilometers below the rim of one of the largest canyons on Mars. That was impressive enough for NASA, but Jean Ward is one of those people with time, interest and magnifying software, and when he started digitally digging into the swirls of Candor Chasma, he found something he believes resembles a crashed flying saucer.
“The anomaly looks like a disc-shaped object which hit the surface of Mars at a very low angle and left a trench behind it. The disc-shaped object measures approximately 12 to 15 metres in diameter.”
“Alternatives: Could this possibly be a ramp leading into an underground entrance or is this an incomplete Project Ice-Worm structure? Or are we seeing a strange arc-shaped dune?”
Ward is kind enough to link to the HiRiSE site and provides instructions on seeing the original photo. He also provides his speculations on what it might be. While the Internet obviously likes the crashed flying saucer explanation, he also suggests it could be a designed structure – a ramp or part of tunnel for moving around nuclear weapons – that’s what the U.S. Army’s Project Iceworm was in Greenland in the early 1960s during the height of the Cold War.
“As always, until we get to see these anomalies up close and personal, I can only speculate as to what these objects might be.”
Or … it could be an unusual dune. As always, anomalies are in the eye of the beholder, and if the beholder is a pareidoliac – one who sees faces in tortillas or on the surface of Mars – then it’s easy to see a crashed flying saucer. Most of us have a touch of pareidolia and a bit of wishful thinking, which explains why this 'flying saucer' photo won't go away soon. Ward doesn’t say how close the Candor Chasma is to the Perseverance rover and its Ingenuity helicopter, but that would be an excellent road trip for the little chopper that could … and is still flying. After all, the Chinese space program is sending its lunar rover to inspect what appears to be a hut on the Moon.
The betting money right now is on a natural anomaly, but the really long odds are on whether NASA takes up the challenge and gets “up close and personal” to it. You’re probably better off buying a lottery ticket.