A photograph taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars that looks like a door cut into the side of a cliff is actually just boring old weathering, scientists have explained, after people started speculating that the square structure could have been made by extraterrestrial species.
What appears to be a rectangular hole carved into the side of a cliff photographed last week by the rover was actually formed by “normal geological processes”, Professor Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College told The Daily Telegraph, pointing to a fracture in the rock which he says could have happened anytime over the past hundreds of millions of years.
Perhaps more important – for humans searching for that ever-elusive proof of extraterrestrial life, at least – the “door” is quite small, so much so that if an entity took up residence there, it probably wouldn’t pose much of a threat to humans. Planetary geologist Nicholas Mangold calculated the height of the alcove to be less than three feet, while experts who spoke to “Fact-checking” The Snopes site claimed it was even smaller, around 30cm by 45cm.
The image was taken by Curiosity on May 7 and went viral on Thursday when people started speculating the square region looked like a doorway. Without any reference point for the actual height of the opening, it certainly looks like it. Even British geologist Neil Hodgkins called it “a very curious image” before admitting it “watch[ed] like natural erosion” to him.
The geologist accuses “Martian Winds” to erode horizontal strata exposed at the surface and pointed to where they intersected with natural vertical fractures, noting that the image appears to show “a big rock [having] fell under its weight of Martian gravity, leaving behind the hole that has attracted so much attention. The rock in question can be seen to the right of the “door” in the photo.
Far from being proof of extraterrestrial life, the door is therefore “all very natural and similar to outcrops you can see in many arid places on Earth”, said the scientist.
The Curiosity rover and the Ingenuity Mars helicopter have been exploring and photographing Mars since last February. They are also collecting samples and plan to spend at least two years in the Jezero Crater area on the Red Planet.