In the vastness of the Martian landscape, the human mind often plays tricks on us. Our pareidolia – our tendency to see familiar patterns and shapes in random objects – is triggered when it comes to Mars. From the infamous face-like formation that turned out to be just a hill, to craters that resemble bears, to rocks that look like ducks and flowers, it’s always interesting to discover these familiar objects on the Red Planet. However, the latest find takes on a somewhat grim character – a rock formation eerily reminiscent of a spine.
Before we move on to look at the spine-like formation, it should be emphasized that this is not a real spine. There are no fossilized bones or skeletons on Mars. Dr. Nateli Cabrol, the scientist who first brought attention to this unusual formation, sheds light on its true nature. She explains that what we see are remnants of ripples that have eroded over time.
Dr. Cabrol, an expert on ancient lakes on Mars, made this intriguing discovery while studying renders of Gigapan created by Neville Thompson. These renders are collages of raw images stitched together, showing the Martian landscape in stunning detail and vivid color. Numerous rocks with peculiar spokes and irregularities can be seen in this context, as well as striated traces of sediment deposition and gradual erosion caused by wind.
Since arriving on Mars in 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been relentlessly exploring Gale Crater and climbing Mount Sharp, the central structure in the crater. This crater once contained a lake that gradually shrank until it disappeared altogether. Climbing Mount Sharp gives Curiosity a glimpse into earlier periods of the lake’s existence. The images taken by Curiosity on March 31, 2023, on its 3,786th Martian day of operation, offer a glimpse into the fascinating geological history of Mars.
Dr. Cabrol expressed her excitement about the discovery, stating, “In 20 years of studying Mars, this is the most bizarre rock I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to get a microscopic image of it…”. Her experience studying ancient Martian lakes fits perfectly with Curiosity’s mission to unlock the secrets of Mars’ past.
Mars has always fascinated the human imagination, and its mysteries continue to unfold. Scientists and explorers are constantly pushing the boundaries of knowledge, discovering new information about the planet’s geologic history. With each discovery, we come closer and closer to understanding the mysterious Red Planet and its potential to hold signs of ancient life.