It has finally happened. Not content with (potentially) infecting the pristine Martian surface with our germs, it appears that we've sent a rat (yes, a whole rat) to the Red Planet. And this isn't some far-fetched hypothesis, there's photographic evidence!
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity snapped this panorama (above) of the "Rocknest" site with its MastCam camera on sol 52 (Sept. 28, 2012) of the mission. Now, with a keen eye and fertile imagination, a UFO enthusiast realized there was a camouflaged rodent hiding in the rocks. Needless to say, there's no other evidence supporting this claim, it's just something that looks like a rodent.
But as you may have guessed, after exercising an ounce of logical thought, what was once a cute furry four-legged creature suddenly becomes... wait for it... this is a good one... a rock. And there you have it ladies and gentlemen: We've found a rock on Mars... that looks like a rat.
This certainly isn't the first time shapes on Mars have fooled the brains of many. What's more, there's a name for this psychological phenomenon: pareidolia - possibly an evolutionary trait.
This psychological oddity makes us see familiar objects in apparently random shapes, such as Mars yetis, faces, elephants, black ops bases and parrots on Mars. Pareidolia is the same thing that makes us see the face of Jesus Christ in burnt toast and bunnies in clouds.
Perhaps it's time to engage some upper-level reasoning and realize that just because there's a rock on Mars that looks like a rat (whether its a trick of the light, or if it's genuinely shaped like a small mammal), it doesn't mean that it is a rat. There is also the possibility that the whole "Mars rat" thing isn't serious at all and judging by the way the initial report is worded, it could go either way.
Regardless, the story is now in the mainstream and it's highly likely that our Mars rat will soon get his own Twitter account. Therefore, it's worth reminding the world that Mars cannot support complex biology like rodents and it's highly unlikely that any basic lifeforms can be found on the Red Planet's barren surface today (although there may be some pockets of modern day habitability below the surface).
Out of interest, a few years ago, I grabbed a high-resolution photo from NASA's Mars rover Opportunity of an outcrop at Victoria Crater. After some time staring at the photo, I spotted over a dozen "faces" etched into the rock. Do you think Opportunity had wondered into an alien sculpture gallery? Or was it more likely that I'd been staring at the computer screen too long, wanting to spot odd, artificial shapes?
Like our UFO enthusiast, it's probably the latter.
Image: Once seen, it cannot be unseen. The "Mars rat" captured by Curiosity's lens. Original image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech