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Mars Mystery
February 11, 2006 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Mars Spirit rover finds something strange. Scientists are puzzled. I'm no scientist, but when I saw the photo, "natural phenomenon" wasn't the first thing to enter my mind.
posted by davebush (62 comments total)

 
I think when they dig it out, they'll find the upside down wheel of a giant Mars Spirit Rover statue.

Then, we'll see how freaked people get.
posted by seanyboy at 2:19 PM on February 11, 2006


While it certinaly is fun to let the mind wonder (ie, non-natural phenomenon), what struck me most about the image was that it looks a lot like the phenomenon you see with sediments deposited by the wind over rock structures. Granted, those are some pretty funky rock structures, especially the ones sticking out at odd angles from the rest...but go look at the desert sometime and you'll see things similar to what you are seeing in this image.
posted by rand at 2:23 PM on February 11, 2006


I don't see why natural phenomenon isn't the first thing to enter your mind; get out of the city sometime, you'll see all kinds of weird natural rock formations.
posted by Justinian at 2:24 PM on February 11, 2006


Bear in mind, the human brain is predisposed towards 'finding' order and patterns, so natural phenomena can fool us when they bear similarities to man-made things we're familiar with.

And lots of really astonishing things can exist as the result of random natural phenomena - DNA, for example. It's all about probabilities.
posted by chudmonkey at 2:27 PM on February 11, 2006


I spent a minute or two squinting at the picture, trying to find whatever it was you thought didn't look natural... do you just mean the rocks? Looks like shale that's been knocked around a bit, to me. Or is there some Where's Waldo thing going on here that I'm missing?
posted by ook at 2:29 PM on February 11, 2006


Definitely a natural phenomenon. My first thought was "limestone!", although it probably isn't. But it does look like weathered, layered sedimentary rock.
posted by fossil_human at 2:31 PM on February 11, 2006


I like to think that the one rock just high and left of the center looks like a giant crab.

A giant space crab.
posted by Loto at 2:32 PM on February 11, 2006


"natural phenomenon" wasn't the first thing to enter my mind.
posted by davebush


So what was your first thought? Tire tracks?
posted by leftcoastbob at 2:33 PM on February 11, 2006


I, for one, welcome our new spread out rock formation overlords.
posted by thanatogenous at 2:33 PM on February 11, 2006


WOW! Holy Toledo! They are pretty sweet rock formations on Mars, but you'd think those scientists could watch their language when being interviewed.
posted by Roger Dodger at 2:36 PM on February 11, 2006


The staircase is there, but I think I'll wait until they find the columns before I make up my mind.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:37 PM on February 11, 2006


Looks pretty typical of sedimentary formations. See, e.g., formations in the Colorado Plateau.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:39 PM on February 11, 2006


Can anyone else see two dogs having sex or is it just me? Sorry, I'll go now...
posted by milkwood at 2:40 PM on February 11, 2006


Fossilized landing tracks!


(Or more likely, interesting looking uncommon rocks. But I want to believe.)
posted by kosher_jenny at 2:48 PM on February 11, 2006


I shoulda known better. No tinfoil hat here, but at first glance my eyes/brain saw orderly 90 degree angles near the center of the photo. Natural formation? Of course. Just saying it didn't "appear" that way.
posted by davebush at 2:48 PM on February 11, 2006


If it's similar to sedimentary deposits on earth, it could bolster the idea that there might have been liquid water on mars.

Then again, periodic volcanic eruptions (the softer layers that wear away faster could be compressed dust, the harder layers could have been freeflowing rock) could also explain the layered look.

If I unsquint, it looks kind of like debris from a flying vehicle that disintigrates before hitting the ground.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:58 PM on February 11, 2006


It's my mother stealing my penis!

Ok, maybe not, but that's my favourite response to Rorshach tests.

Really, I've seen natural rock formations on Earth very much like this. I can't see it being anything other than natural, though I do wish it was obviously not.
posted by Kickstart70 at 2:59 PM on February 11, 2006


I don't really see what the big deal is here.

The bottom rocks remind me of the Pancake Rocks near Punakaiki in New Zealand.
posted by redteam at 3:06 PM on February 11, 2006


Mmm, pancake rocks.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:08 PM on February 11, 2006


Other strangely-encountered stones:Natural formations all.
posted by cenoxo at 3:09 PM on February 11, 2006


You talking about that smiling flat-head seal down at the bottom?
posted by HTuttle at 3:18 PM on February 11, 2006


"natural phenomenon" wasn't the first thing to enter my mind.

giant's causeway
posted by hgbrian at 3:21 PM on February 11, 2006


You talking about that smiling flat-head seal down at the bottom?
posted by HTuttle at 3:18 PM PST on February 11 [!]


Actually HTuttle, I think that's Jabba the Hut.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 3:23 PM on February 11, 2006


Ohh I see Jebus in the rocks !
posted by elpapacito at 3:25 PM on February 11, 2006


Every two weeks, there's an amazing discovery, designed to keep the public interested, and the tax dollars relevant.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 3:27 PM on February 11, 2006


Oh, that. Finn Mac Cool put that there.
posted by 235w103 at 3:31 PM on February 11, 2006


OK, that Giant's Causeway is bizarre. Could someone offer a dumbed down explanation of how the hell that came to be?
posted by davebush at 3:49 PM on February 11, 2006


Formation of the Giant's Causeway:
The causeway was formed during the early Tertiary period some 62 - 65 million years ago over a long period of igneous activity. Three lava outflows occurred known as the Lower, Middle and Upper Basaltic. Lulls occurred between the outflows as is evident in the deep inter-basaltic layer of reddish brown 'lithomarge' which is rich in clay, iron and aluminium oxides from weathering of the underlying basalt. The causeway area would have been situated in an equatorial region at that time, experiencing hot and humid conditions. This came about due to the fact that the earth's crust is floating on moving plates known as 'tectonic plates', these move slowly but over millions of years they can travel thousands of miles. The hexagonal columns of the causeway occur in the middle basalt layer, the same formations can be seen at Staffa in Scotland (Fingal's Cave) and they also occurs in the the surrounding landscape of North Antrim and in fact many other parts of the world.

The fascinating pattern that we see in the causeway stones formed as a result of rock crystallization under conditions of accelerated cooling, this usually occurs when molten lava comes into immediate contact with water, as happens today in Hawaii, the resulting fast accelerated cooling process causes cracking and results in what we see today at the causeway.
More pictures and info at Columnar Jointing.
posted by cenoxo at 3:57 PM on February 11, 2006


Washington Scablands, a result of Glacial Lake Missoula
posted by geekyguy at 4:02 PM on February 11, 2006


So the incas were right all along!
posted by DirtyCreature at 4:06 PM on February 11, 2006


I think it looks like a natural formation, and don't see anything all that unusual before.

I'd never seen the Giant's Causeway before, though, that's awesome.
posted by Meredith at 4:09 PM on February 11, 2006


How come all the photos from Mars always look like it's the afternoon, and then all the photos from the moon look like it's night?
posted by punkrockrat at 4:20 PM on February 11, 2006


"The debate is never fully over until Spirit makes use of its science instrument-tipped robot arm"

I think I know who's been using the spirit rover. Naughty, unsaturated fats!
posted by lalochezia at 4:22 PM on February 11, 2006


How come all the photos from Mars always look like it's the afternoon, and then all the photos from the moon look like it's night?

Because Mars has an atmosphere and the moon doesn't.
posted by argybarg at 4:34 PM on February 11, 2006


It looks a lot like glacial moraine, which would be just as weird if not weirder than the remnants of some Martian temple.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:07 PM on February 11, 2006


So someone was driving a pick-up truck on Mars and left some tracks. Billy Bob got there first.
posted by caddis at 5:12 PM on February 11, 2006


In the Paria River canyon that drops out of Southern Utah, and drains into the Grand Canyon at Lee's Ferry, there are what are called The Pearls Of The Paria, which are marble, marbles from tiny to huge all through the river bed. These are much like the Blueberries that the opportunity rover has seen. Also in this area are lots of sets of "sandstone step" formations where water has come down through long crevasses and made deposits that look like sets of steps. There are also "elephant leg" formations under overhangs out in front of the steps. They look like temples, but are a naturally occuring part of the river bed.
posted by Oyéah at 5:23 PM on February 11, 2006


Silmilar to the Giant's Causeway: the Devil's Postpile.
posted by SPrintF at 5:29 PM on February 11, 2006


redteam, those where pretty cool. I went by them in '01 and hiked around a bit. Was a wonderful drizzly day so most tourists avoided going outdoors, yay
posted by edgeways at 5:35 PM on February 11, 2006


Looks like a slate bed.
posted by sonofsamiam at 5:41 PM on February 11, 2006


You should really view all of he photos of Home Plate.
posted by kokogiak at 5:43 PM on February 11, 2006


Thanks kokogiak - now that I've had a good look from different angles, forget what I said. Looks perfectly random and far from mysterious.
posted by davebush at 6:29 PM on February 11, 2006


I would love to see something here that made me think these were anything other than natural formations. But I don't.

I would, however, like NASA to get some closer pokings around of this.
posted by JWright at 6:37 PM on February 11, 2006


Every two weeks, there's an amazing discovery, designed to keep the public interested, and the tax dollars relevant.

Are you serious? Sorry, can't tell.

I was under the impression this is interesting because these types of rocks often form in environments that contain large bodies of water.
posted by batou_ at 7:13 PM on February 11, 2006


You're no scientist.
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:15 PM on February 11, 2006


It's evidentally proof of intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarding this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drawing their plans against us.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:17 PM on February 11, 2006


Ah, you retracted later. Sorry for snarking.
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:18 PM on February 11, 2006


Spend some time in a desert. That formation is not only natural, it's not very interesting. If I turn on a flashlight will you run screaming into the night, calling me a devil who summoned fire from his hand?

Why must people always conjure up extraordinary visions to explain the universe?
posted by fleener at 7:47 PM on February 11, 2006


Proof that the intelligent designer is just a mediocre hack.
posted by slatternus at 8:21 PM on February 11, 2006


Thanks for the stereopairs, kokogiak.
posted by interrobang at 8:36 PM on February 11, 2006


>I would, however, like NASA to get some closer pokings around of this.

There are lots of new photos of the Mars face. Just as ordinary.

1998:



2001:



2002:


posted by skallas at 8:45 PM on February 11, 2006


By poking do you mean NASA should have scrapped its mission plans and sent one of the billion dollar rovers to the face just to appease some conspiracy buffs? That's like demanding the Apollo mission to land on the "man in the moons" eye or asking Armstrong and Aldrin to carry around a green cheese detector.
posted by skallas at 8:48 PM on February 11, 2006


I say they're partially buried I Ching hexagrams.
posted by Creosote at 8:55 PM on February 11, 2006


Asshats. Always some asshat has to reject science while, ironically, making use of science in almost every damn aspect of what he's using to communicate his rejection. Why do we let these morons do it?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:10 PM on February 11, 2006




Try out this interesting thing from the Spirit Rover.
posted by Oyéah at 9:15 PM on February 11, 2006


Every two weeks, there's an amazing discovery, designed to keep the public interested, and the tax dollars relevant.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 6:27 PM EST on February 11


The fact that they've outlived their missions by what...almost 2 full years now doesn't matter? The money was already spent...we just turned out to spend it incredible well and developed two martian rovers that kick serious ass :)
posted by gren at 9:37 PM on February 11, 2006


The martians know they've been found out now. We're only one step away from freakish tripods and needing tom cruise to save us all!
posted by Doorstop at 9:59 PM on February 11, 2006


If you look in the corner, you can see one of those flying black triangle thingys that NASA keeps after that alien spacecraft accident in the desert.

Just kidding. I'm hoping for more evidence of water. And an actual fossil record would RULE.
posted by frogan at 10:04 PM on February 11, 2006


> which are marble, marbles from tiny to huge all through
> the river bed. These are much like the Blueberries that
> the opportunity rover has seen.

Except for the fact that they're completely different.

Well, ok, they're both roughly spherical. And both are 'mineral' (as opposed to 'animal' or 'vegetable' or 'processed cheese food').
posted by spincycle at 11:26 PM on February 11, 2006


I thought it looked like a pillow on some rocks.
an martian pillow!

go rovers go.
posted by Busithoth at 6:52 AM on February 12, 2006


Is it one of thoise joke pictures where if you stare at it long enough a scarey face pops up?
posted by Artw at 7:45 AM on February 12, 2006


Yes, that mysterious black dot on the horizon in the upper right quadrant is clearly a malevolent artifice.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:42 AM on February 12, 2006


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