Scientists studying the surface of Mars recently found a piece of the rocky planet smiling back at them.
In an image shared Jan. 25 by The University of Arizona (UA), what appears to be the face of an enormous Martian teddy bear — complete with two beady eyes, a button nose and an upturned mouth — grins at the camera of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). According to UA, this photo of an uncanny assortment of geological formations was snapped on Dec. 12, 2022, as the MRO cruised roughly 156 miles (251 kilometers) above the Red Planet.
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What's really going on here? It's likely just a broken-up hill in the center of an ancient crater, according to a statement posted to UA's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera blog (opens in new tab).
"There's a hill with a V-shaped collapse structure (the nose), two craters (the eyes), and a circular fracture pattern (the head)," the statement reads. "The circular fracture pattern might be due to the settling of a deposit over a buried impact crater."
Viewers may see a bear's face emerge from a collection of dusty rocks and crevices thanks to a phenomenon called pareidolia (opens in new tab), a psychological tendency that leads people to find significance in random images or sounds.
—Listen to a Martian dust storm engulf the Perseverance rover in eerie, world-first audio recording (opens in new tab)
—See Mars 'peek out' from behind the moon in stunning eclipse photo (opens in new tab)
—Colossal 'planet killer' asteroid sparked mega-tsunami on Mars, and now we know where it landed (opens in new tab)
Space provides endless fodder for pareidolia. Take this nebula (a random outflow of gas and dust) that sort of looks like the city-smashing monster Godzilla (opens in new tab), or this Martian rock formation that NASA briefly mistook for the meeping Muppet Beaker (opens in new tab).
Both Beaker and the newly discovered Martian teddy bear were imaged by HiRISE, which is one of six science instruments on board the MRO. HiRISE has been snapping pictures of the Red Planet from orbit since 2006 and, according to UA, is the most powerful camera ever sent to another planet.
More incredible images — and perhaps more cuddly-wuddly faces — surely await just over the Martian horizon.
Originally published on LiveScience.com.