Is that a mysterious doorway to an underground necropolis captured in a photo of the surface of Mars by NASA‘s Curiosity rover?
Uh, probably not.
The grainy, now-viral picture shows what looks like a rectangular opening in the Red Planet’s rocky surface that looks like a portal to the unknown. While scientists were quick to debunk claims of otherworldly architecture, Twitter users had a blast with the picture.
“Oh, hey, look, that’s totally a little doorway for little aliens that totally exist, like, on Mars!” tweeted another.
NASA has released no official statement about the image, perhaps preferring to let earthlings speculate.
The image was captured May 7 by the rover’s Mastcam while it ascended Mount Sharp. While it looks big enough to fly a saucer into, it is really less than a foot tall, according to experts.
“It’s just the space between two fractures in a rock,” Mars Science Laboratory scientist Ashwin Vasavada told Gizmodo. “We’ve been traversing through an area that has formed from ancient sand dunes.”
UFOofInterest.org, which investigates UFO, alien, and related phenomena sightings, said the formation is really not that out of place on the planet’s rocky surface.
“Watching it in context as part of the whole mosaic, we can see that little niche in a rock w/ other blocks, fractures, shapes & other erosive features all over that rock face,” the space sleuthing site tweeted.
About this raw image ( what’s that? An entrance to a secret underground tunnel? Watching it in context as part of the whole mosaic, we can see that little niche in a rock w/ other blocks, fractures, shapes & other erosive features all over that rock face. pic.twitter.com/ou4Ze941HR
— ufoofinterest.org (@ufoofinterest) May 11, 2022
Vasavada said it was formed after dunes were compacted together, then buried and unburied over time as the sand on Mars’ surface shifted. The process puts sandstone under pressure, which causes it to fracture in different places.
“The fractures we see in this area are generally vertical,” he told the outlet. “I think what we have here [is] either two vertical fractures, where the middle piece has been removed, or one vertical fracture, and the blocks have moved apart a little bit,” Vasavada said.
By zooming in, viewers can see that what looks like a cave is really just a shallow area where a wedge of rock has fallen away to create the illusion. It is reminiscent of Cydonia, the so-called “Face on Mars” that fascinated humans in the 1970s, but turned out to be just a hill on the surface of the planet.
Curiosity has been tooling around Mars since 2012, when it landed in what is known as the Gale Crater. In that time, it has only covered 17.3 miles in 3,472 Martian days.