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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Finding faces and animals on Mars

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

30-05-2013 10:05 CDT

Topics: fun, Mars

Yesterday, a news organization sought comment from The Planetary Society about the "lizard on Mars." I'm not going to dignify the lizard or rat on Mars with a link to any one story -- feel free to Google around to find images of the blobby thing, along with stories about it that mostly seem not to take it seriously.

Why am I even mentioning it, then? It's because I'm seeking your help in doing something both funny and helpful about this kind of problem. Seeing faces and other apparent shapes where none actually exist is a natural byproduct of the way the human brain works, something called pareidolia. In the past, I've combated strange pareidolia by addressing how a specific object cannot possibly be what its "discoverers" claim it to be. My favorite one of these has to be the teeny little Sasquatch on Mars:

Teeny Little Bigfoot on Mars

NASA / JPL / Cornell / Emily Lakdawalla

Teeny Little Bigfoot on Mars
This is a tiny detail from a panorama taken by the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on sol 1,366-1,369 (November 6-9, 2007) of its position on the eastern edge of Home Plate.

But I can't write a blog post for every Sasquatch or lizard that shows up; it's like playing whack-a-mole. Every time you whack one, another several pop up to taunt you. A much more effective response is the one put together for years ago by Eric Hartwell in response to the Sasquatch discovery. In addition to Bigfoot, he found a Tiki head, a human skull, an eagle, and my favorite: a "high-speed turtle." This photo is the all-time number-one most downloaded image from

NASA / JPL / Cornell / Eric Hartwell

"Bigfoot's Buddies" in Spirit's West Valley Panorama
Stop the presses! If you take a closer look at Spirit's West Valley Panorama, you can find more of Bigfoot's buddies. The polar bear and duck are neat, but my favorite is the high-speed turtle zooming through the dust ...

But that was nearly six years ago now. In the spirit of Eric's "Bigfoot's Buddies" image, I am challenging you readers to find all of the animate and inanimate objects visible in this Curiosity panorama. It was taken in the local afternoon, so there are nice shadows that obligingly pretend to be all kinds of interesting shapes. What do you see? Click through twice to enlarge it to its original glory, and feel free to stretch the bejeezus out of the contrast in order to make all of the wildlife and alien artifacts in this image* more visible. Send me an email with a cropped image (and tell me where in the original picture it came from) telling me what interesting shapes you find, and I'll post a montage of my favorites. Your prize for being selected for my montage is fame forever, in the form of having your name or pseudonym listed in my blog entry.

Late-afternoon panorama, Curiosity sol 50

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Damia Bouic

Late-afternoon panorama, Curiosity sol 50
Curiosity took the photos for this Mastcam-34 panorama of her surroundings at about 3:00 in the afternoon, local time, on sol 50 (September 26, 2012).

 *Just in case it is not abundantly clear, I am joking about wildlife. Though not alien artifacts. There is, in fact, an enormous alien artifact in this image, namely the butt end of a gigantic rover that came from another planet.

See other posts from May 2013


Or read more blog entries about: fun, Mars


Bill Campbell: 05/30/2013 11:02 CDT

Emily. Recall the face on Mars featured in various programs and books etc. Also the pyramids of Elysium. Have fun with this story. One day, perhaps a robotic camera will see a fin or an eye drift by its field of view in a Jovian ocean? :)

Andrew Planet: 05/30/2013 05:12 CDT

I found what seemed like a Martian cross between an angler fish and a crocodile that unfortunately has swallowed up Curiosity on (I could not quickly find the same photo where I saw it first on ) The tail is the bit on the bottom left and the smiling head is on the top right. The rest of it is its rugged scaled body. Poor Curiosity, it got gobbled up by a Martian Crocofish!!

Mike Kerna: 05/30/2013 11:04 CDT

Did this lizard happen to put on a top hat and sing "Hello My Baby"?

David Muhlrad: 05/31/2013 03:57 CDT

That "Little Mermaid" proves the Vikings were there first.

Larry Roark: 06/01/2013 04:16 CDT

As George Costanza said on Seinfeld, I will tolerate infestations! Lets get the Orkin Man up there and set some traps! I refuse to colonize until this process is done..I am fighting it out now with a local Armidillo here in Tampa, want to take him? Ah, forget it, no Grubworms for him/her there! hey seriously nice find Emily!

Andrew Planet: 06/02/2013 08:09 CDT

And robust Curiosity is sending us information from inside, all the time!

floridaman: 10/05/2013 11:41 CDT

At first I thought I must not have a good imagination, all I see are rocks and sand. Then I saw them, ancient Egyptians built pyramids on the horizon! There are at least three of them!

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