A photo of what looks astonishingly like a doorway carved into a rock face on Mars has taken the internet by storm.
The photo, taken by the Mars Curiosity rover and released this week by NASA, looks like an entrance to the underground home of an intelligent alien race to the whole world.
Unfortunately for space enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists, the reality is far less exciting.
Professor Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College London said it was probably just an ordinary rock formation.
“The crack is a rift, and they’re plentiful on Mars and Earth — it doesn’t take Marsquakes to produce them,” Professor Gupta, who has worked on the Curiosity mission with NASA, told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper.
“Nothing strange about the image — these are just normal geological processes.”
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Elsewhere, a NASA spokesperson told myth-debunking website Snopes that the image is also an extreme close-up. The crack that looks like a Martian click doorway is about 45 centimeters long.
“There are linear fractures in this outcrop, and this is a location where several linear fractures intersect,” he said.
It’s not the first time regular geological structures on the surface of planets have been mistaken for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Last year, the Chinese lunar exploration mission identified what appeared to be a mysterious hut on the moon. It turned out to be a boulder.
In other Mars-related developments, NASA said on Wednesday that one of its spacecraft on the planet was headed for a dusty demise.
The InSight lander loses power due to the dust on its solar panels. NASA said it would continue to use the spacecraft’s seismometer to record Marsquakes until the power goes out, likely in July. Then flight controllers will watch InSight until the end of this year before they blow everything off.
“There hasn’t really been much doom and gloom in the team. We’re still focused on piloting the spacecraft,” said Bruce Banerdt, chief scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Since landing on Mars in 2018, InSight has detected more than 1,300 Marsquakes; the largest, a magnitude of 5.0, was two weeks ago.
It will be NASA’s second Mars lander to be lost to dust: A global dust storm destroyed Opportunity in 2018. In the case of InSight, the dust has been a gradual build-up, especially over the past year.
Curiosity is still strong, thanks to nuclear power — along with NASA’s other functioning spacecraft on the surface of Mars.
The space agency could rethink solar power for Mars in the future, planetary science director Lori Glaze said. It can also experiment with new panel-clearing technology or focus on the less stormy seasons.
InSight generates a tenth of the power from the sun it did when it arrived. Deputy project manager Kathya Zamora Garcia said the lander initially had enough ability to run an electric furnace for an hour and 40 minutes. Now it is a maximum of 10 minutes.
The InSight team anticipated the dust build-up but hoped the wind would wash the solar panels clean.
Another instrument called the mole, had to dig five meters underground to measure the internal temperature of Mars. But the German excavator never got deeper than half a meter because of the unexpected composition of the red soil. He was pronounced dead early last year.