NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has recently captured a captivating image that resembles the face of a bear on the surface of Mars. This surprising discovery was made by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the MRO, which has been capturing stunning images of the Red Planet since 2006.
The bear’s face consists of a “V-shaped collapse structure,” representing its nose, two craters representing its eyes and a circular fracture pattern representing its head. The University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, which operates HiRISE, has stated that the circular fracture pattern might have resulted from the settling of a deposit over a buried impact crater, or could be a result of a volcanic or mud vent.
This mile-wide feature’s uncanny resemblance to a bear is merely a coincidence and serves as a fascinating example of pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon where the human mind tries to create familiar patterns even when none exist. A classic example of pareidolia in astronomy is the “Man in the Moon,” which is the result of the visual interplay between dark lunar seas (maria) and lighter lunar highlands. Many cultures and religions have their own origin stories that attempt to explain the presence of the Man in the Moon.
Mars has been a source of pareidolia for a long time, with spacecraft orbiting the planet detecting examples of this phenomenon. In 2018, HiRISE captured an image of a region of Mars that could easily be mistaken for the lovable Muppet character Beaker. Additionally, NASA’s Viking 1 spacecraft captured an image in 1976 of a two-mile-wide mesa on Mars that resembles a human face. This face, located in the region of Cydonia, was discovered while the Viking 1 was searching for a suitable landing site for its sister ship, Viking 2. However, images taken by the Mars Global Surveyor in 2001 revealed a much less compelling object.
This recent image of the bear face on Mars is just one of the many exciting discoveries made by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and a testament to the power of the human imagination and its ability to see familiar patterns in the unlikeliest of places.