NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover captured a photo of what appears to be a purposefully carved doorway leading somewhere deep into the Red Planet last week.
The image was captured by the Curiosity rover’s Mastcam on May 7 as the rover climbed Mount Sharp. According to Gizmodo, the grainy image has piqued the interest of conspiracy theorists because the formation does not appear to be a naturally occurring phenomenon, but rather as if a doorway was purposefully carved into the side of the hill.
But NASA scientists are tempering expectations.
“It’s just the space between two fractures in a rock,” says Ashwin Vasavada, a project scientist with the Mars Science Laboratory.
“We’ve been traveling through an area formed by ancient sand dunes.” The fractures in this area are mostly vertical. “I believe we have either two vertical fractures with the middle piece removed, or one vertical fracture with the blocks slightly separated.”
Experts believe that what is going on here is the human brain’s tendency to see familiar shapes when looking at unfamiliar environments. According to Gizmodo, a squirrel and a spoon were also thought to have been seen on Mars. It’s not just limited to Mars, either.
In December, China’s Yutu 2 lunar rover photographed what was described as a “mystery hut” on the moon’s furthest side, and Chinese scientists were willing and ready to examine what appeared to be signs of extraterrestrial life.
“An obtrusive cube on the northern skyline drew their attention,” the scientists explained at the time. “This object struck the winding skyline like a ‘mysterious hut’ that appeared out of thin air.”
However, upon closer inspection, which took the rover more than two days to complete, it was discovered that the shape was just a trick of the camera, lighting, and perspective, as the “hut” was revealed to be nothing more than a rock.
Skeptics are really not convinced, and many make the argument that nature, despite numerous examples to the contrary, doesn’t tend to make straight lines like those seen in Curiosity’s photo.