Our fiery red neighbor, Mars, has intrigued astronomers since the 2nd millennium BCE.
The planet is named after the Roman god of war. It was similarly known as Nergal by Babylonians and Areos aster, or ‘star of Ares,’ by the Greeks.
Even today, it is an essential symbol in many cultures around the world.
Starting in the ’60s, we started using technology to study the planet scientifically. The first successful mission to land on the planet was NASA’s Viking 1 in 1975. Since then, many successful missions have been carried out, which landed rovers on Mars.
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We have learned a lot about the red planet, thanks to the data and images captured by these missions. We couldn’t positively identify the existence of life on Mars.
But we did find some interesting photographs that piqued the public interest in Mars exploration. Let us take a look at a few.
1. Little Colonsay
Little Colonsay was a shiny object on the Martian surface discovered by the Curiosity rover. Scientists think it could be a meteorite, but they’re open to other possibilities.
2. Morse Code
Forget about crop circles. There was an interesting image captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) in February 2016. It shows a peculiar pattern on the surface of the red planet that looks a lot like the dots and dashes of Morse code.
It is, in fact, made of dunes.
Scientists have attempted to analyze this code, which translates to a seemingly gibberish line, "NEE NED ZB 6TNN DEIBEDH SIEFI EBEEE SSIEI ESEE SEEE !!"
3. Fish-shaped rock
We do not have enough evidence yet, which suggests that there is life on Mars. But UFO and alien enthusiasts keep finding signs of life in optical illusions and pareidolia.
NASA's Curiosity rover photographed one such unusual formation that looked like a fish. While we cannot confirm whether it was a fossil or simple rock, it is safe to assume the latter.
NASA has previously stated that "Mars likely never had enough oxygen in its atmosphere and elsewhere to support more complex organisms. Thus, large fossils are not likely."
4. Jelly Donut
The Opportunity rover captured two subsequent images showing the sudden appearance of what looked like a jelly-doughnut. People started identifying it as an alien fungus, and the theory quickly spread in conspiracy theory circles.
The real explanation came a little later when NASA announced that the rock's sudden appearance was due to the rover dislodging it while driving.
Another discovery by the Opportunity rover was the ‘blueberries.’ These BB-sized pebbles are hematite-rich spherules.
They were first discovered in 2004 near the Fram Crater, but there is no proven hypothesis about how they got the shape.
Opportunity discovered another unusual formation in 2012 at the Kirkwood outcrop. These spherical rocks are different from the blueberries found earlier.
They are a puzzling discovery, according to NASA, with respect to their concentration, distribution, and structure.
7. Dust Devil
Opportunity ran across a peculiar jet that appears in the image of the Mars landscape photo in 2016. It's a dust devil, not unlike the ones found on Earth.
These dust devils are potential weather hazards for human visitors, and the Mars missions of the future will need a solution to deal with them.
NASA's MRO found this phenomenon in 2010. Here, a cloud of particles is puffing upward at a steep cliff.
The probable cause is an avalanche of CO2 frost. These are a common occurrence in the springtime of the planet.
9. Waffle-shaped island
Another image from MRO taken in 2014 shows an island in the shape of waffles. It is 1.2-miles wide and is located in an area of lava flows.
This lava could be causing the unusual sight but pushing the formation upwards.
10. Dragon Scales
NASA called these scaly patterns Dragon Scales of Mars. They are thought to be a result of erosion of ancient rocks over time though the exact process is still unknown.
This involves factors such as the nature of the water. The image was taken in July 2017.
11. Egg Rock
An iron meteorite, now called egg rock, was discovered in October 2016 by NASA's Curiosity rover. It is at the base of Mount Sharp in the Gale crater on Mars.
The rock is quite tiny but can be studied in close-up views.
12. Scratch marks
Do you think the dragon scales were weird? MRO found these lines on the Martian surface in 2017. These lines that look like scratch marks are linear gullies caused by dry ice sliding down the slope.
13. Lava Coils
These swirls that look like carvings on the martian rocks are known as lava coils. These are interesting shapes that appear to be done by humans, but they’re a naturally occurring phenomenon.
It happens when two lava flows in opposite directions meet and harden in the middle.
14. The Hole
In 2017, NASA's MRO discovered an unexplained hole on the surface of Mars. The hole is hundreds of meters in diameter.
The hole could be due to the collapse of the surface or some kind of impact.
15. Face on Mars
NASA's Viking 1 Orbiter was one of the first successful Mars missions. It took this image while zipping past the planet in 1976.
The rock formation in the center that looks like a face was one of the first images that started a series of such ‘spottings’ on mars. Other similar photographs include a rabbit and two feminine statues.
These were interesting times in space exploration, though the lack of life on Mars was a little disappointing.
The present decade has seen a renewed interest in Mars missions. Companies such as SpaceX are positive about the idea of colonizing Mars.
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‘Occupy Mars’ is the slogan. People are as invested in the vision as the space agencies. Such excitement hasn’t been seen since the moon missions.
Effective collaboration between private companies and government agencies is set to make the vision of Mars and beyond a reality.