Experts: Mars ‘doorway’ just small crevice on barren terrain
CLAIM: NASA’s Mars rover has captured images of a doorway cut into a mountainside of the red planet, suggesting the presence of extraterrestrial life.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. NASA officials and a Mars expert at Harvard University say the curious formation is nothing more than a narrow, naturally-occurring crevice in the rocky, barren terrain.
THE FACTS: At first, the outlines of a door frame cut into the barren mountainside on Mars appear unmistakable, like the entryway to some long forgotten tomb in the sands of Egypt.
But upon closer inspection, the formation captured in images released earlier this month by NASA is nothing more than an unremarkable gap among scores of others on the red planet’s harsh terrain, according to federal space officials and Mars experts.
Social media users widely shared a magnified version of the image, which made it appear the formation was much larger than its actual dimensions.
“Image of a clearly cut door way in mountain on Mars is filmed by the curiosity rover on 7th may,” read one recent tweet with the photo.
Andrew Good, a spokesman for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told The Associated Press that the image being circulated is a “very, very, very zoomed in shot” of a naturally formed rock crevice.
On Wednesday, NASA posted on its website more detailed renderings of the area, which it says is a mound of rock nicknamed “East Cliffs” on Mars’ Mount Sharp.
Curiosity, a rover that’s been exploring the mountain since landing in 2012, took the image of the crevice on May 7. Good said that NASA scientists overseeing the rover estimate the opening is 12 inches (30 centimeters) tall and 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide, or roughly the size of a medium dog door.
“You can see all kinds of cracks and fractures in the surrounding area,” Good wrote in an email. “There are linear fractures throughout this outcrop, and this is a location where several linear fractures happen to intersect.”
The images were taken as part of Curiosity’s broader mission to investigate a region on Mount Sharp that may hold evidence of a major change from wetter to drier conditions in Mars’ early history, according to NASA.
Gaia Stucky de Quay, a researcher at Harvard’s earth and planetary sciences department who studies Mars’ surface, said images suggest this particular spot started developing linear cracks until a large wedge of rock eventually broke off, perhaps due to wind erosion, dust storms or “marsquakes.”
She said the fallen chunk may even be the large, angled rock that can be seen sitting right next to the formation.
“The shadows make it look like a perfect rectangle in low quality images, which has been used to suggest it is a ’doorway,” Stucky de Quay wrote in an email. “But cracks generally form in straight lines, and you can actually see very clearly into the inside of the rock wall, and see the back of the wall, with even more cracks in it.”
The assessment from NASA and other Mars experts hasn’t deterred some online skeptics from questioning the timing of the image release. It came just days before Congress opened its first hearing in more than half a century on unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, on Tuesday.
Lawmakers at the hearing voiced concerns that China, Russia and other well-equipped foreign adversaries could be using new aerospace technology against the U.S. and its allies without their knowledge. U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, an Arkansas Republican, said the investigations into UFOs were not “about finding alien spacecraft but about delivering dominant intelligence.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.