The Curiosity Rover photographed a strange rock formation on Mars, which has been likened to a “floating spoon”, thus sparking online controversy.
NASA’s rover employed its Mastcam on the Red Planet’s soil and captured this image depicting an unusual rocky protrusion on sol 1089. Members of the UnmannedSpaceflight.com forum have noticed that this group of rocks actually held an uncanny resemblance to a spoon hanging in the air, which has led to heated debate among those who favor conspiracy theories and those who oppose them.
Since Mars is known to be uninhabited by any civilization which could have produced such an object, it became clear to many that this was simply the effect of wind action on the planet’s surface. On Mars, gravity is weak, the atmosphere is much thinner (less than 1% of Earth’s) and erosion processes seldom take place.
As a result, Eolian processes are much more common and spectacular, producing not just sandstorms, but also valleys, dune fields and intricate shapes which can spur imagination.
Another factor contributing to the formation of such small structures is the presence of mineral veins, which are rich in calcium sulfate and usually hang above the soft sedimentary rock. On the right side of the new Curiosity picture, a bright vein can easily be seen, which may help explain the aspect of the rocky shape.
In the past, other photographs publicized by space missions have been equally controversial, such as imagery appearing to show rats, iguanas, parrots and flowers. Most recently, an ancient lava flow on Mars was captured on film by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, and some of those who viewed the image didn’t notice a barren surface, but the head of an elephant.
In fact, all these instances seem to be classic examples of pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon where the brain wrongly perceives a familiar pattern, while trying to make sense of unfamiliar or ambiguous surroundings. Random shapes are distorted by the human eye, which begins seeing common objects or people in unlikely settings. For instance, one might see animal shapes in cloud formations.
According to psychologist Kang Lee, humans are biologically wired to recognize others, so our brains automatically interpret the mere suggestion of facial features as an actual face. A commonly cited example of this optical illusion is “the man in the moon”, which identifies the appearance of the lunar surface as anthropomorphic.
The fallacy involved in pareidolia has been proven on various occasions, such as when the much-debated “face of Mars” was photographed from a different angle, at a higher resolution.
Initially, this hilly surface located in the Cydonia region on the Red Planet was considered by some to show the pattern of a human face. In fact, upon closer inspection it was demonstrated that the apparent features were simply unusual shadows falling on the natural landform.
Image Source: Zee News