Space & Innovation

Mysterious Mercury and Planetary Pareidolia: Photos

NASA's MESSENGER probe has been in orbit around Mercury since 2011 and has returned photos of some really strange looking objects.

[slideshow 7804]

NASA's MESSENGER probe is the first spacecraft to orbit the solar system's innermost planet and, since orbital insertion in 2011, the satellite has returned over 150,000 photographs of the enigmatic alien surface. However, many of the features the robotic probe has seen resemble very un-alien artifacts. But there isn't really snowmen, the Cookie Monster or a pirate graffiti artist on Mercury, they are all optical illusions stemming from a psychological quirk known as "pareidolia" -- the same phenomenon that makes us see the Virgin Mary in burnt toast and faces on Mars.

Shown here is a recently released photograph of Mercury's Caloris basin, featuring none other than Star Wars' Han Solo frozen in carbonite... but then again it's more likely a raised feature just tricking our brains.

In 2011, MESSENGER got into t' festive mood t' celebrate "Talk Like a Pirate" Day (Sept. 19). Well, it's that time o' t' year again me buckos, so we thought it was a very good time t' show ye t' pirate's Jolly Roger that was eyeballed inside a Mercurian crater. Look in t' starboard portal t' see t' outline o' a skull and crossbones. You see it now, right? Yarrrr!

This strange arrangement of craters give the uncanny resemblance of a certain cartoon mouse.

During a Mercury flyby in 2008, MESSENGER snapped some high-resolution images of the floor of the Caloris basin to find a spider. It was in fact an impact crater with some impressive radial troughs breaking up the surface, but the mission's science team still refer to the feature as "The Spider."

Another fortuitous arrangement of impact craters appear to have etched out The Cookie Monster's googly eyes.

Is this the X-Files logo? Or is it a classic case of "X marks the spot"? It's neither actually, this cratered "X" was formed by secondary crater chains created by ejecta from two primary impacts outside of the field of view of the photo.

One would think that Mercury was a little too close to the sun for snow, let alone snowmen! Although ice has been revealed inside the planets coldest craters, this snowman-like shape is, once again, just craters tricking the brain.