No, the ‘alien figure’ in NASA’s Mars rover image isn’t proof of life

This image of the April 2021 Perseverance rover shows a collection of rocks. The red circle highlights the one being discussed.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/Red Circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

This story is part Welcome to Marsour series exploring the red planet.

Combing through images of NASA’s Mars rover looking for fun shapes in the rocks is a pleasant pastime, but it is important to remember these fish and faces and posterior are just cool bits of the landscape. Sometimes goofy rock sightings spill into wider media, such as with recent news of an “alien” seen in an image taken by NASA’s Perseverance rover. Some headlines claim this figure is “100% proof of intelligent life”.

Let’s break it down.

Scott Waring, who runs a site focused on UFOs, highlighted a rover sight with a flat rock with a shape above it, suggesting it was evidence of life on the Red Planet. As a reminder, Mars is a horribly inhospitable place and scientists haven’t even found evidence of ancient microbial life there, although explorers like Perseverance are looking for evidence.

Waring spotted the rock in a panoramic image posted on Gigapan. I traced this back to the original raw footage taken by Perseverance in April 2021. Waring sees an “alien figure”, a small person in a dark suit lying down and staring at the rover. Zooming in where it all becomes blurry, I can see where this interpretation is coming from.

Is that you, Ian Malcolm?

NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/Red Circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

In my imagination, the “figure” looks like a tiny, sculptural representation of that famous scene from Jurassic Park where a sweaty Jeff Goldblum is lying like he’s at a boudoir photo shoot.

I don’t blame Waring for the excitement. I get downright giddy when I see a pretty Martian rock (there’s looking at you, ass of rock). And I would love it if the day came when scientists discovered intelligent extraterrestrial life wandering around Mars. But photos of nifty rock shapes aren’t proof of life, past or present, on Mars.

There’s something beautiful about the human desire to find familiar objects, faces, and characters in random rocks on Mars. I see it as a form of optimism, of hope that we are not the only planet inhabited by intelligent beings. So please keep seeing wild things on Mars, but also let us know them for what they really are.

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