This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.
Is that you, Smokey? NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped a view of Mars that will likely trigger your pareidolia instincts. Pareidolia is the human tendency to see familiar objects in random shapes. In this case, you’re totally looking at a bear.
The University of Arizona runs the HiRise (High Resolution Imaging Experiment) camera on board MRO. It featured the bear-like formation as a HiRise image of the day on Wednesday.
The “face,” captured by MRO in December, is bigger than your average bear. A version of the image with a scale shows it stretches roughly 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) across.
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Since we’ve established this isn’t a real bear’s face or even bear art made by Mars’ nonexistent intelligent aliens, what is it? “There’s a hill with a V-shaped collapse structure (the nose), two craters (the eyes), and a circular fracture pattern (the head),” the HiRise team said. “The circular fracture pattern might be due to the settling of a deposit over a buried impact crater.” The nose might be formed by a volcanic or mud vent, so the material deposited over the crater could be lava or mud.
HiRise has a knack for finding imaginative faces on Mars. There’s the Happy Face Crater, Beaker from The Muppet Show and, oddly enough, Ed Asner. So spotting a bear’s mug is just another day on the red planet. Said the HiRise team, “Maybe just grin and bear it.”