Scientists have explained what looks like a door on the side of a mountain on the Red Planet.
NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered what looks like an “alien doorway” on Mars, sending the internet into a frenzy.
The image, which was taken on May 7 in the Mount Sharp region of Mars, has gone viral on social media, with people claiming it was fake. Or the entrance to an alien temple.
The straight edges, cast shadows, and smooth “path” look convincing. And strange.
But, according to geologists, the “gate” is not all that it seems.
The gap is much less an entrance to a Martian temple than it is the result of “natural erosion” – a piece of rock has fallen by natural forces, leaving the shallow gap behind, but nevertheless strangely sharp.
Mars Science Laboratory project scientist Ashwin Vasavada told Gizmodo that “the space between two fractures in a rock” is formed by “ancient sand dunes” that have built up over centuries.
Pressure builds on each layer as dunes are buried and reburied and the surface of Mars moves.
“The fractures we see in this area are usually vertical,” he said, adding that this door-like structure likely formed in two ways.
“I think what we have here (is) either two vertical fractures, where the middle piece has been taken out, or one vertical fracture, and the blocks have moved apart a bit.”
In fact, there are several clues that the crevasse is not a true entrance.
For one thing, it’s less than a meter tall, and the Curiosity rover is about 2.2 meters tall. So these architect aliens are either very short or, logically, just rock.
Second, you can see that there is no dark interior in the alcove. It’s just an alcove.
It’s quite lucky that the sharp boulder-like rock to the left was what broke off – and it smoothed the planet’s surface as it rolled.
But logic hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists from snapping the shot and running with it.
“What if it was only a few centimeters?” How do we know how tall our overlords will really be? a conspiracy theorist posted on a Reddit thread (now deleted).
The internet certainly had fun with this intergalactic event, photoshopping mini aliens into the original image and claiming that other Martians might call it home.
“If you zoom in all the way you can see Matt Damon crouching inside the door,” another Redditor said – referring to the 2015 sci-fi blockbuster. The Martian.
And it’s certainly not the first time something mysterious has thrown the internet into orbit.
In 2021, China’s Yutu 2 rover spotted what looked like a cube on the moon, which turned out to be a rock that wasn’t even vaguely cubic.
Just last week, the world marveled at the claw-like stripes (actually, fault lines) stretching across the western hemisphere of Mars. And weeks later, a flying saucer was spotted on the planet.
The sighting comes as Curiosity continues its ascent of Mount Sharp, which rises about 18,000 feet from the floor of Gale Crater, where it first landed in August 2012.
The viral image was taken on a slope called the Greenheugh Pediment, which is covered in ‘alligator-backed’ terrain, named for its reptile-scaled appearance.
Curiosity has been navigating this particular area for months on its slow ascent to the ancient mountain.