NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover has been hard at work snapping pictures of oddities found on the surface of the red planet, and its finds are sending alien conspiracy theorists into a frenzy.
Since Perseverance landed on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, it has been exploring the Jezero Crater area, which was created by the impact of an ancient meteorite. This location was selected because more than 3.5 billion years ago, scientists believe that a lake once filled the crater and may have been home to microbial life.
“There is evidence of ancient river flow into Jezero, forming a delta that has long since been dry,” according to NASA, which has tasked Perseverance with finding signs of past life in the primordial lakebed.
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But some internet denizens believe that life on Mars is not as ancient or microbial as scientists assert after Perseverance sent back a picture of a precariously balanced rock on top of a boulder on the uninhabited planet.
The rock is about the size of a bowling ball, according to Yahoo! News, and was found in Hogwallow Flats, an area that sounds like it was plucked straight from a Harry Potter book.
The find was posted to Perseverance’s social media pages on June 16 along with additional photos of the area. The mighty robot said its team back on Earth was “happy as pigs in mud(stone)!”
It cheekily didn’t mention the eerie balancing rock that was shared in a subsequent post, simply saying that the photos mean there are “Tons of potential targets for study.”
The lack of an explanation for the balancing rock left a vacuum for alien conspiracy theorists to purport that perhaps Martians are playing an elaborate prank on us.
“Aliens are playing tricks on us… I tell you,” one Facebook user wrote in response to the balancing rock. “They are certainly hiding in Mars.”
Another Facebook user pegged the rock as a “Martian basketball.”
One Twitter user pointed out that a formation next to the balancing rock resembled the head of a snake. Others thought it looked more like a turtle.
Geology enthusiasts, though, were quick to point out that the balancing rock formation may be a result of weathering and wind erosion. They posit that the rock isn’t “balancing” on the boulder per se, but may be attached at the bottom.
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Balancing rock formations can be found in a number of parks across our planet, including Arches National Park in Utah and St. Mary’s Bay in Nova Scotia, and are usually the result of erosion or retreating glaciers.
One Facebook user wasn’t convinced by this explanation, writing, “What I find odd about the balancing rock is all the other rocks in the area (are) sharp edged and flat. How is that the only round rock?”
Gizmodo, an outlet that covers technology and science, reached out to NASA to ask about the balancing rock and the agency said it was likely a PBR (a Precariously Balanced Rock).
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“Often a balancing rock is in fact connected to the larger underlying rock by a stem or pedestal,” NASA wrote. “The Martian balancing rock … was most likely formed after extensive aeolian (wind) and/or chemical erosion carved it out from the local bedrock.”
NASA says that the presence of these formations on Mars can help us glean information about the area’s seismic history, writing that PBRs “have been called “reverse seismometers” because the existence of PBRs makes it possible to measure earthquakes/marsquakes that didn’t happen.”
“If these rocks are still balanced, then the ground hasn’t moved enough to knock them over,” NASA added.
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Just one day before this find was posted, Perseverance shared images of what appeared to be a piece of silver foil on the barren planet.
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NASA was immediately ready with an explanation that time, saying the agency believes it was a piece of a thermal blanket that was used during Perseverance’s landing to protect the robot from extreme temperatures.
The balancing rock isn’t the only strange rock formation to be found on Mars.
Last month, NASA’s Curiosity Rover snapped an image of what looked like a doorway leading into a rock face. The opening is estimated to be about 30 centimetres tall and 40 centimetres wide, making it approximately the size of a dog door.
NASA officials and a Mars expert from Harvard University said this rock formation was a naturally occurring crevice.
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