This week has seen a surge in images circulating which allegedly show a rat (or squirrel) and a lizard photographed on the surface of Mars.
Let’s take a look at each of these images. First off is the Mars rat…
The photo was snapped on September 28, 2012 and the full image can be found on NASA’s website here, and the official description of the photo reads:
‘Rocknest’ From Sol 52 Location
This patch of windblown sand and dust downhill from a cluster of dark rocks is the “Rocknest” site, which has been selected as the likely location for first use of the scoop on the arm of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity. This view is a mosaic of images taken by the telephoto right-eye camera of the Mast Camera (Mastcam) during the 52nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Sept. 28, 2012), four sols before the rover arrived at Rocknest. The Rocknest patch is about 8 feet by 16 feet (1.5 meters by 5 meters).
Scientists white-balanced the color in this view to show the Martian scene as it would appear under the lighting conditions we have on Earth, which helps in analyzing the terrain.
The photo above is an extreme magnification of the image posted on NASA’s website. The “rat” in the image above appears to be poking out between two rocks. Below is the full image from which the above “rat” photo was taken:
Similar to the “Mars Rat” above is the “Mars Lizard” which was also circulated earlier this week. A lizard-looking formation in a photo of rocks was spotted by a blogger and the photo went viral. Below is the full image and the “lizard” closeup:
This photo was taken by the Mars rover Curiosity back in March.
Though conspiracy theorists may claim that these creatures were secretly placed there for testing purposes by the Mars rovers, or that these Mars images were actually taken in a desert here on earth, a more likely explanation is that these are simply examples of pareidolia.
The most likely (and widely accepted) explanation for these strange images on mars is the concept of pareidolia, the interpretation of something vague as being significant. It’s akin to seeing images in cloud formations or the “man on the moon.”
Several of us here looked for other “creatures” in other NASA images, and we were able to pick out all sorts of familiar formations such as an alligator and a penguin. It isn’t even clear if these alleged “creatures” are to proper scale.
With no evidence yet that even microbes have survived on Mars, it’s unlikely to find earthly creatures such as rats and lizards roaming the surface, especially with sub-freezing temperatures, high radiation, and high carbon dioxide atmosphere.
In short, they’re rocks.