Why do people see aliens in these NASA Mars shots?

Most people don’t pay attention to every NASA announcement. Those who do tend to look at the pictures with interest, make some cooing noises and then get on with their day. A tiny group, however, pour over every image with a fine-toothed comb, looking for anything that could possibly – if you squint – resemble alien life, like the most tedious Where’s Wally book ever created.

NASA tends to ignore these “alien sightings”, which cover the full spectrum of “hey, that looks a bit like a squirrel!” to the full-on “oh my God, what has NASA been hiding from us!” conspiracy theory. When someone at NASA does offer insight, the answers tend to be mundane enough not to make news headlines or dampen the conspiracy theorists’ enthusiasm.

For example, take this “rat” spotted on Mars. As reported on space.com, Joy Crisp, the Curiosity deputy project scientist put the blame purely on the same abrasions that would make a rock look weird on Earth: “Clearly, it results from, you know, a lot of things like wind erosion, mechanical abrasion and breakdown chemical weathering of the rocks – that’s why they turn into these weird shapes.”

Okay, but why is it always faces, people and animals that we spot? The answer is interesting, but not in the way UFO believers would hope. It all comes down to the psychological concept of pareidolia, where humans look for the familiar in random images.

We have colour HD cameras on this Rover that far exceed anything ever sent to the planet before, and yet in order to find these things that kind of trick your brain into thinking it’s a mermaid or whatever, you do have to zoom into where it’s kind of a fuzzy shadow,” NASA scientist Ashwin Vasavada told CNN.

Still in the interests of keeping an open mind, here’s five of the things purportedly spotted on Mars, and my own pareidolia-biased brain’s take on things.

1. Mars iguanas walk amongst usmars_iguana

Well, less “walk” than lie seductively, enjoying some rays. The kind of rays that Mars, with its average temperature of -60 degrees centigrade, doesn’t get.

The second image has been enhanced to look more lizard and less rock-like, but even then, it looks more like someone has done some impressive sand sculpting than anything genuine.

6/10

2. Just a woman casually taking a stroll on Mars woman_walking

Now this is a bit more like it – if you squint, you can definitely see a female figure standing on the rocky surface. It doesn’t look like she’s moving, but then she’s probably just realised that a flowing dress wasn’t the right outfit for a scramble across Mars.

Oh, more crucially, the scale we’re talking about would make the woman a couple of inches tall, so yeah, chalk this one up to a trick of the light.

5/10

3. Star Destroyer crash lands on Marsstar_destroyr

Stop everything – was the galaxy far, far away actually on our doorstep? What does Lucas know that he isn’t telling us?

Actually, even if you think that the rock does look like a Star Destroyer – and I think that’s a bit of a stretch, to be completely frank – the Star Wars vehicle is said to carry around 10,000 people, this one would be around 2-3 metres, so it’s probably filled with 2-3 inch passengers of the sort seen in the previous picture.

3/10

4) In space, nobody can hear you scream. Except that facehugger over there.facehugger

Sticking with the movie theme, that rock sure looks like a facehugger doesn’t it? You know, the parasite in Alien that attached itself to John Hurt’s face before their spawn burst forth from his chest?

Yes, yes it does. I’m more than a little creeped out by this one, because unlike the others, it actually looks quite a bit bigger than the creature its supposed to resemble. Judging by the heights of Mars’ population (see pictures 2 and 3), this facehugger might have overshot its natural evolution.

7/10

5) Presidential Mars facemars-head-statue

Consider the evidence: Barack Obama will finish his term as president next year, and is constitutionally forbidden from seeking re-election. Could he be planning an audacious bid to be the first Martian president with this replica of his head on the planet’s surface? He certainly has the Super PAC funding to do so…

Probably not. For one thing, you have to meet enthusiasts more than halfway to even see a face, let alone Obama’s.

3/10

So like NASA, it’s safe to say I’m unconvinced.However, that’s not to say there’s no life on Mars (and beyond our galaxy – the Drake equation suggests it’s rather likely), but if there is, it’s unlikely to take the form of rats, crabs, iguanas or the 44th President of the United States.

“One of the best things we found is that Mars could support life,” explained Vasavada. “If anything, we think it’s microbial life that’s possible at this time. Things like rats and iguanas would be way further up the food chain that we think Mars may have ever gotten to.”

In other words, unless you think NASA is lying to you, we’re going to need far stronger cameras before we can see life on the level that could be possible on the red planet. But don’t expect that to stop the alien spotters.

Images via NASA and modified by UFO Sightings Daily

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