NASA Rover Curiosity took a picture of a Lovecraftian feature on the surface of Mars last week: what appears to be a rectangular and shadowy opening in the planet’s exposed rock that looks like it leads into the subsurface of Mars.
The image was captured by the Curiosity rover’s mastcam on May 7 climbed Mount Sharp. WEven if the grainy black-and-white image might make conspiracy theorists overjoyed will almost certainly not appear the entrance to an underground alien society.
“It’s just the space between two fractures in a rock,” Ashwin Vasavada told Gizmodo in a phone call today. Vasavada is a project scientist at the Mars Science Laboratory, he said The formation is definitely not the entrance to a video game’s dungeon level. “We have traversed an area formed by ancient sand dunes,” he said. These sand dunes have been cemented together over time, creating the sandstone outcrops that Curiosity passes by.
Vasavada told us that the fracture was only about a foot high and that these sand dunes were once compressedThey were buried and uncovered over time as the sand on the Martian surface moved. The sandstone was under different pressures, causing it to buckle and break in various places. “The fractures we see in this area are generally vertical,” he explained. This particular door-shaped breach likely arose in one of two ways.
“I think what we have here [is] either two vertical breaks with the center piece removed, or one vertical break and the blocks have moved apart a little,” Vasavada said.
The Curiosity rover has been orbiting Mars since landing in Gale Crater in August 2012. The Rover has since covered 17.3 miles (27.84 kilometers) in 3,472 Martian days or “sols”. When Curiosity is not collecting rock and soil samples, it takes photos with its panoramic mastcam (mast + camera).
This photo by Curiosity is another Example of our tendency to see familiar shapes in an unfamiliar landscape. In the past people thought they had seen all sorts of out of place things on Mars including a squirrel and spoon.