≡ Menu

No Humanoid on Mars, Just Rocks

West Valley Panorma on Mars.  Image Credit:  NASA / JPL / Cornell / James Canvin

Okay, once and for all, let’s make this clear. In the words of our esteemed Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, “repeat after me:” A humanoid was not photographed on the surface of Mars. And NASA is not covering up this photo in the name of national security. Furthermore, human missions to Mars have not been cancelled because of this photo. These outrageous notions keep popping up in the media. The photograph, which was taken by Spirit, one of the Mars Exploration Rovers, is just another example of pareidolia, our ability to see patterns in random shapes.

As happens frequently, people tend to see faces or human forms in things like clouds, wood grain, and pancakes. This is only an optical illusion. If you need proof of this, for those of you in the US, look at one of the state-themed quarters from New Hampshire. There you can see the Man in the Mountain, a case of pareidolia that became an historic site (which has since crumbled.)

The photo shown here is the very large panoramic image from which a teeny, tiny rock formation was found that looks kind of human-like. Someone had to be looking really close to see it, as the rock formation is only about 6 centimeters high, and in the image you can also see a hill that’s over 8 kilometers (5 miles) away.

If you have any doubts in your mind that this is nothing more than just a very small, unusual rock formation, please, please, please see Emily Lakdawalla’s thorough explanation of the image at the Planetary Society’s website, which includes 3-D pictures that really make it clear this is not a humanoid. It’s a rock with a funny shape. And Phil the Bad Astronomer has more info on it as well here and here.

And, okay, here’s the really zoomed in image crop that has caused such a hubbub. Just remember how small this rock really is.
tiny detail from a panorama taken by the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on sol 1,366-1,369 (November 6-9, 2007) of its position on the eastern edge of Home Plate. Credit: NASA / JPL / Cornell


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Walt January 27, 2008, 9:00 PM

    Thirty Years ago, scientists were telling us that we were “unique” in the universe and there was no one else here but us. Now we are being told that there is life everywhere and probably intelligent life. Scientists are listening to the stars to try and eavesdrop on ET.

    I have always believed that NASA has been finding things in our solar system over the past 30 years to make scientists change their minds, and we aren’t being told about what they are finding, probably on orders from the government.

    I suspect they are getting us ready for something and it’s scary what it might be!

    Mulder and Scully, where are you when we need you!!!

  • Paul January 28, 2008, 5:51 AM

    Just to show how pervaisve the effect is you can also “see” an invisible man just above the rover calibration spike in the centre. He’s not small and far away but tall and looking straight into camera. Can’t tell if he’s saying “cheese”

  • Jamie Kitchen January 28, 2008, 6:55 AM

    “I suspect they are getting us ready for something and it’s scary what it might be!”

    Dude, you need to take it easy on the cough syrup.

    Why in the heck would the government want to cover something like this up if they had real evidence?? It would provide an excellent opportunity to introduce heavy controls and limited freedoms. Not to mention unlimited funding for military and science.

    No, the government would be all over this and it would be in you’re face day and night.


  • Soldierinthewind January 28, 2008, 11:25 AM

    Duh, what if the Mar’s inhabitants were only 6 cm tall? Just cuz the planet is bigger than earth, doesn’t mean the inhabitants have to be… Maybe NASA held up the release of the photo so they could sell it on E-bay…

  • soupy January 28, 2008, 2:13 PM

    dude do you really believe Mars is bigger than Earth???

    I suppose you will be saying the moon is the same size as the sun next!!!
    There is life somewhere else in this universe, maybe even in the subsoil of mars, but intelligent life needs to be in the goldilocks zone… which is where some of the plant pots here seem to be!!

    Mars is just not right for intelligent life, but some day we will find intelligent life, maybe not in our lifetimes but someday. They may have even found us already, but we don’t know they are there.
    You all believe in radio waves and microwaves but you can’t see them!

    Be afraid be very afraid… mmuuwwwhhhhhahahahahaha!!!

  • Waylander_348 January 30, 2008, 9:10 PM

    For all those who favor signs of intelligent life on Mars, please consider the Gusev Crater. It looks like a giant Smiley Face. Is this not proof that Forest Gump was on Mars? I defy you to prove it is not a government conspiracy to cover it up.

  • Waylander_348 January 30, 2008, 9:48 PM

    I was in error. Yes, true beiievers in Forrest Gump on Mars. It was the Galles Crater. http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/strange_images_010213-8.html Good grief. This may never get on Art Bell.

  • Waylander_348 January 30, 2008, 9:51 PM

    I admit a mistake. This was the Galles Crater. http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/strange_images_010213-8.html. Will I get on Art Bell now with this theory?

  • Astinus February 1, 2008, 2:03 AM

    If the hill is 5 Kilometers away then the “little man is at least 1.5- 2 Kilometers away, not right in front of the camera as the rover is on the rim of a crater, go to The Grand Canyon and you’ll see how distance is very hard to gauge without a reference point. So thanks for pointing out the distance to the hill, now you need to rethink your little man theory. Also if you find the image that is zoomed out a bit more (Not shown on this site) There appears to be a trail leading downhill toward the strange figure.

  • Dave February 3, 2008, 4:57 PM

    Ever notice, the rocks head here looks similar in shape to the skull shaped rock in other photos?

  • Allissia Clark March 25, 2008, 7:56 AM

    Well this is just one point i have to say about the humanoid picture.We humans do NOT know what that is;only if we visit the planet are we ever going to find out.Alot of people say different things about the picture.We humans just need to find out if that picture was tampered with or go to the red planet our selves to find out! So get your telescopes out and start graphing and taking pictures!!! -Allissia

  • Ronnie Van Zant April 30, 2008, 7:54 PM

    I said it once and I’ll say it again,…there’s things going on that you don’t know.

  • Ralph Rewes June 6, 2008, 5:29 PM

    This comment is insulting:
    There you can see the Man in the Mountain, a case of pareidolia that became an historic site (which has since crumbled.)

    We have pictures of every astral body in our solar system, I haven’t heard anybody seeing so many weird shapes elsewhere but on Mars.

    And every time NASA picks up a landing place, this is flat and bland, while the many places with questionable structures are ignored. Then if the first pictures shows something unusual, days passed without the viewers receiving direct downloading.

  • Hashi-Tashi June 16, 2008, 5:35 PM

    i am actually a believer in the possibility of ancestral life from mars but i don’t necessarily find 100% proof with every single anomalous photograph that is taken.

    did mars at one time have intelligent humanoid life?
    yes, very likely

    do i believe in most of the theories about the cydonia region?
    most of them

    is the gov’t “covering up” a lot of things about mars?
    probably, it’s most likely but i don’t lose sleep over it

    is this a picture of a living being or a statue of some sort?
    i doubt it

  • anthony December 15, 2008, 4:51 PM


    I am reading this thread about six months too late, and I am very disappointed in the critical thinking ability of many Universe Today readers. Why do you think the government is covering up evidence of extraterrestrial life? Are you so paranoid and cynical that you have lost the ability to trust other human beings?

    Please think your comments through to their logical conclusion before posting them on the internet where other “intelligent beings” can read them. Why would a scientific organization cover up the biggest scientific discovery of all time? From a purely political perspective, any scientific org. would stand to gain immense new sources of funding and enjoy a high level of influence on government spending. From a scientific perspective, that organization would enjoy tremendous respect and prestige from the scientific community, let alone the world. Finally, I’m absolutely certain that a little secret like the discovery of extraterrestrial life coul be kept under wraps for any length of time.

    These are but three reasons why you government conspiracy theorists are wrong about this photo. There are many others, and I ask that you think about the possibility you are wrong before stating “facts” on respectable websites such as Universe Today.

  • Richard Kirk January 1, 2009, 6:34 AM

    This is a pretty good image of a person. To me it looks like the little mermaid statue in Copenhagen. It took me some time to figure it out. If you are having some trouble figuring out how a little statuette like this can happen by accident, well it’s not that shape at all. As far as I can gather from the 3D pictures….

    The rock that forms the dark ‘figure’ also has lighter pink surfaces to the right and left of it. These are the same color as the background, and it is hard to distinguish the two. The regions above and below the ‘arm’ are part of the same right-hand surface. The ‘figure’ seems to be a dark or shadowed region formed when the edge between these two surfaces was knocked off. Weathering may have caused the top-left to bottom right striations. The left pancam filter 7 image shows this a bit more clearly than the others. The 3D shape we see is largely an effect of grazing light, and most of the features we see may be concave rather than convex.

    Even when I know what the real shape is, I still see the little mermaid.