Update (Sept. 3): Agreeing with the analysis below, NASA's Curiosity Twitter feed confirmed that the "spoon" is a feature shaped by the wind. "There is no spoon. This weird Mars feature is likely a ventifact -- a rock shaped by wind," NASA tweeted on Wednesday.
We've seen "rats," "yetis," "faces," even "elephants" on Mars, but this new image captured by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is one of the most fascinating views of a rock formation on the Martian surface yet.
Sure, like these other examples I've included in "quotes," this "spoon" is yet another wonderful example of Mars pareidolia, but with a twist.
Top 10 Weirdest Mars Illusions and Pareidolia
This latest Mars oddity was spotted by members of the UnmannedSpaceflight.com forum in an image captured by Curiosity's Mastcam on sol 1089 of the mission (Aug. 30). Once you spot it, it becomes obvious; it really does look like a spoon hanging in the air, just above the surface of some layered rock. But as Mars is devoid of any civilization, advanced or otherwise, that is capable of manufacturing said spoon, there's probably a more logical answer.
The logical answer, however, is still pretty awesome.
Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon that makes our brains interpret some kind of random visual stimulus as a familiar pattern or object. A famous example of space pareidolia is the "Face of Mars", where a mesa (a hill) in the Cydonia region of Mars had the pattern of a human face in early Viking spacecraft observations. Now we have high-resolution cameras in orbit about Mars, we have since proven that the face was nothing more than a product of some fortuitous shadows and psychological trickery.
ANALYSIS: Curiosity Has Hit a Martian Mineral Jackpot
Down on the Martian surface, recent images beamed back by Curiosity have been awash with rocks of all shapes and sizes - needless to say, the high-resolution imagery from the mission has been a hotbed of pareidolia, leading to numerous conspiracy theories - the most recent being a rock shaped like an iguana, which has taken social media by storm.
But now we have (what appears to be) a spoon (and it REALLY looks like a spoon, just sayin') jutting out from rocks on Mars. Undoubtedly a great example of pareidolia, but also an insight to the wonderfully calm Martian environment and fascinating geological processes.
Windy Erosion On Earth, if the conditions are right, rocks, shaped by hundreds of thousands or even millions of years of wind erosion, can appear unnaturally balanced or shaped (such as Colorado's Garden of the Gods or Utah's Balanced Rock). But on Mars, where the atmosphere is thin, gravity is weak and other erosion processes are few, wind action can create even more elegant structures than on Earth. Aeolean processes (wind action) dominates Mars, producing everything from small dust devils to planet-wide dust storms. This windy activity creates vast dune fields and snaking valleys - it can also create tiny arches and overhangs, like this "spoon."