Sorry folks, NASA says that their $2.5 billion Mars Curiosity rover will not analyze the so-called “Mars rat.” Of course, Curiosity’s real mission is to investigate the Martian climate and geology, and to assess whether Gale Crate has ever offered environmental conditions suitable for microbial life.
The Mars rat photo, which was obtained by Curiosity in September 2012, was first discussed by Scott Waring in a post for UFO Sightings Daily in December.
“Note its lighter color upper and lower eyelids, its nose and cheek areas, its ear, its front leg and stomach. Looks similar to a squirrel camouflaged in the stones and sand by its colors,” Waring wrote at the time.
Shortly after Waring’s post, the Mars rat photo was noticed by several mainstream publications, including Space.com. As a result, the photo went viral.
Though it’s neat to imagine that NASA might be conducting some sort of top-secret experiment on the Martian surface, reports from Space.com and FoxNews.com have suggested that the Mars rat photo is actually a case of Red Planet pareidolia.
LiveScience notes that pareidolia leads some people to see or hear a vague or abstract image or sound as something significant.
Whether or not the Mars rat is really a rodent or case of the psychological phenomenon known as pareidolia, Space.com reports that NASA has no plans to analyze the strange-looking rock/rodent in the viral photo.
In fact, Joy Crisp, a Curiosity deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters Wednesday that the rodent is probably just a weird-looking rock. She cited wind erosion, mechanical abrasion and breakdown chemical weather of the rocks as reasons why rocks can take on strange shapes.
Crisp also said that Curiosity scientists are usually pleased when people think they see something in the Martian rocks. She pointed out that cases of pareidolia convince a lot of people to look at the images and hopefully help people learn something about Mars in the process.
If Curiosity has no plans to analyze the “Mars rat,” then what is it planning to do? According to NASA, Curiosity has reached a turning point in its scientific mission on the Red Planet.
The space agency says that the rover is completing exploration in an area tinier than a football field where it has been doing its job for six months. Soon, Curiosity will go for the distance, driving approximately 5 miles to reach an area at the base of Mount Sharp.
Should NASA have used its $2.5 billion Mars Curiosity rover to examine the Mars rat? Was the Mars rat simply a case of Red Planet pareidolia or was it something worth examining more closely? Sound off in the comments section.