Social media is abuzz with a picture of a bear taken not on Earth but on our neighborly planet Mars. Before you rush to any conclusions, no alien life hasn’t been spotted on the planet, and there aren’t any bears that we know of so far. The image of the bear was taken and shared by NASA.
HiPOD: A Bear on Mars?
This feature looks a bit like a bear’s face. What is it really?
— HiRISE: Beautiful Mars (NASA) (@HiRISE) January 25, 2023
That a strange-looking image has come from Mars should not be surprising at all. With humans planning to foray beyond the Moon, there is a lot of surveillance of the Red Planet currently underway, and even the slightest resemblance to anything Earthy gets picked up.
For instance, last year, a small crevice barely 11 inches wide and 17 inches across made it to the internet as a ‘doorway’ to something sinister on Mars. Once again the image was shared by NASA after the Curiosity Rover shot it.
Shot by HiRISE
This time, the image is shot by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE. A little over five feet (1.6 m) long, the experiment is a powerful camera with a focal length of 40 feet (12 m) located on the Nadir side of the spacecraft so that it can continuously look at the Red Planet.
It is equipped with 14 detectors, each covered with a filter in the red, near-infrared, or blue-green wavelength bands. Hi-RISE can acquire images containing as much as 28 Gigabytes (GB) of data in as little as six seconds, its NASA webpage states.
The 143 pounds (65 kg) spacecraft is tasked with studying the active surface processes and landscape evolution on the Martian surface, and it takes its images from an altitude of 186 miles (300 km). With a pixel size of about 12 inches (30 cm) across, each image taken by Hi-RISE can resolve an object as small as a kitchen table (three feet) across on the Martian surface, so a giant Bear Face is something it simply could not miss.
The Bear Face on Mars
Unlike previous images captured on Mars that have scope for doubt, there is not even an iota of second thought here that one is staring at a Bear’s Face. The question then is, how did it get there?
NASA’s explanation is as simple as it can get. It is just a natural rock formation. What one sees in the image is just a chance occurrence of a sequence of events that happened on the Martian surface over many years.
The eyes of the bear are two craters that are relatively small in size. The snout-like appearance is a hill with a V-shaped collapse structure which might be due to volcanic activity or a mud vent.
That leaves us with the circular outline that forms the head of the bear. Researchers explain the pattern as one that is likely a subterranean impact crater but one that has seen sedimentation over a period of time.
There is a lot left to chance for this to happen. But the reason why you see a face there is also because our brains love to see faces. This image pops out from the thousands of GB of data captured by Hi-RISE because it is a face and nothing else.