Panoramic image with "plank"-like rock. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
Panoramic image with "plank"-like rock. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

Mars

Wood Plank Found on Mars?

1 Dec , 2008 by

Over the long holiday weekend, Universe Today was flooded with emails from readers who asked us to comment on an image taken by the Opportunity rover that appears to show a plank of wood laying on the surface of Mars. The image, above, (here’s the full resolution image) was taken in May of 2004, about four and a half years ago, in the early part of the Mars Exploration Rover mission. Since the image appears to have caused a bit of excitement across the internet recently, I decided to contact Dr. Jim Bell from Cornell University, who is also the lead scientist for the Panoramic cameras on the rovers. Bell was surprised to hear from me about the image, but happy to offer some insight. “My first reaction,” he said, “is that it’s delightful that there is such public interest in images from Mars.” Bell agreed that, indeed, it does look like a wooden plank. But does that mean it is a piece of wood on Mars? Sadly, no, says Bell.

"Plank" crop image.

“What you’re seeing is a piece of flat, platy, layered sulfur-rich outcrop rock like we’ve seen almost everywhere the Opportunity rover has been in Meridiani Planum,” said Bell. “Sometimes, like in this case, those flat, platy rocks have been tilted or dislodged, this one probably from the forces associated with the huge impact crater that formed nearby.”

See this image of several rocks in the area that have been tilted:

More tilted rocks.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

More tilted rocks. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

“And this one’s being viewed edge-on,” Bell said, of the rock in question. “That edge-on view, combined with the layered nature of these rocks in general gives the surface a sort of grainy texture. So, indeed, it looks like a wooden plank on Mars.”

So, could it maybe be wood? “No, sadly,” said Bell. “I say ‘sadly’ because personally I think it would be incredible and spectacular to find a wooden plank on Mars! However, in this case, it’s just a trick of the lighting and the viewing angle.”

This image, as other Mars images that have created hubbub and speculation, is another example of our human tendency to see familiar shapes in random patterns. (Phil Plait talks about this pareidolia here.)

In fact, I spent most of the morning scanning through MER images from May 15-29, 2004 to see if I could find more images of this “wooden plank.” There’s plenty, as all of the MER images from all five cameras for both rovers are freely available on the rover website. I believe I found an image of the same rock, taken from the “backside” or opposite view: (see below)

Opportunity rover image from Sol 111.  Credit: NASA/JPL

Opportunity rover image from Sol 111. Credit: NASA/JPL

Here, it appears to be a rock, a tilted rock, but it doesn’t stand out because from this view, the lighting doesn’t make the rock appear as dark as the original view. Again, I’m not sure this is the same rock, but there are several images of tilted rocks in this region, and if this isn’t the same one, it’s one very much like it.

Here’s another image of rocks that have a similar “grainy” look to them:

Rocks with grainy surface.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

Rocks with grainy surface. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

For those of you who remain convinced that NASA is covering up some sort of “major” finding here, just remember a few things:

1. This image was released back in May of 2004, just a couple of days after it was taken by Opportunity. MER Principal Investigator Steve Squyres made the decision before the mission started to release all the images taken by the rovers and make them freely available to anyone. If NASA was hiding something, they wouldn’t have posted this image, as well as all the other images of the area that are available. Please, go look at them all if you have any doubt.

2. The best planetary geologists on Earth have looked at this image, and have all concluded this is just a rock. It’s an interesting rock, but a rock nonetheless. Think again if you believe some internet sleuths out there have a better understanding of this object than highly trained and experienced planetary scientists.

3. If this object really was a piece of wood, NASA and all the scientists on the MER mission would probably be shouting from the rooftops. As Jim Bell said, it would be incredible and spectacular, and don’t think for a minute these scientists wouldn’t be jumping for joy if they found something as amazing as log on Mars.

And in case you’re wondering about the other interesting feature in the image, the shiny object in the background is Opportunity’s heat shield.

By  -        
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.


40 Responses

  1. robbb says:

    it’s still hard to believe there’s human hardware sitting on a planet millions of miles away snapping photos of an alien terrain that actually exists. We’ve done pretty well for a bunch of trigger happy monkeys.

  2. maudyfish says:

    Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood on Mars?!?!

    Too bad it’s not real wood!!! I’ve got a piece of petrified wood in my collection that looks “something” like it.

  3. maudyfish says:

    Robbb, watch out you may get some comments on the “monkey business.”

  4. Hunnter says:

    Oh god, i hope not. Not again (about the monkey thing)

    Also, this looks like a pretty obvious rocky object, from my eyes.
    Rocks like this are usually sliced up and put on roofs of houses.

    There are much weirder images on that site i have seen.

  5. YES YES THIS IS JUST A ROCKY OBJECT, THERE IS NO WOOD ON THE MARS!

    NO LIFE ON MARS, NO LIFE IN SOLAR SYSTEM, NO LIFE IN MILKY WAY GLAAXY, NO LIFE IN THE WHOLE UNIVERSE EXCEPT ON THE PLANET EARTH!!!

    WE ARE THE ONLY LIFE, SO IT MUST BE WE ARE GODS!

  6. hammster says:

    Ok, so it’s a rock. NASA is still hiding the fact that it possesses alien spaceship technology since 1962 and can freely go to Mars whenever it wants using pilots from it’s Non-Terrestrial Pilot List. We are being visited by over 65 different species of extraterrestrial beings, all of which have been described as Humanoid which has been a topic of great discussion among those with the proper clearances.

    NASA’s space program is a coverup to the black space program that it actually has. Watch the UFO DISCLOSURE PROJECT in 2001 to see a large number of ex high ranking officals including air traffic controllers, ex secret op. officers, commercial pilots, numorous military defence specialists with top secret clearance, people who had access to very sensitive documents
    lieutenants, ex commanders in the u.s airforce, astronauts,etc…all going before the national press club to discuss what their experiences have been regarding u.f.o’s and all are willing to go before congress to testify under oath.

    Extraterrestrial UFO’s are real. In 1962, engineers successfully reverse engineered their Zero Point Energy anti-gravity technology spacecraft technology and can freely go between planets. NASA’s computers were hacked in 2001 and some of this information was verified. NASA airbrushes out images of UFO’s and sightings from the space shuttle have been described as ice crystals or space junk even though the ice made 180 degree turns and accelerated to high velocities and stopped on a dime.

    The people of Earth have been systematically lied to since the Roswell incident in 1947. Roswell was real. Aliens are visiting our planet and the truth would be so shocking to earth humans that the coverup may continue indefinitely.

    UFO DISCLOSURE PROJECT. Watch the 2 hour video and learn the truth about what our governments have covered up for 70 years.

  7. Joe says:

    The Vulcans visited already?
    Dam I missed it.
    how come no one told me?

    It would be cool to see Aliens visit Earth one day, hope in my lifetime.

    Joe

  8. Assi says:

    We really want to find life on other planter, so that every little thing arouse our attention. Obviously, it is a rock in the picture, how will it be wood? there is no life on Mars. Feel sorry for those who believe it is wood.
    But I believe that we’re not the only one. there are maaany galaxies, how can we be the only one?

  9. bigguylittlecoat says:

    How long can a wood plank of that size last in this kind of environment anyway?
    or is that an alien species which specialize in wooden space craft lost one of there landing gears!!

  10. Sci-Fi Si says:

    Run for the hills! The Martian’s are building boats to travel across space and kill us all – Eeek!

  11. trux says:

    Yes, it must be real wood – just open the first image in the full version and go directly up from the plank. Near the horizon, you can clearly see a band of ET’s sitting around a fire and grilling a marsian pig. What other would they use if not wood for the fire?!

    Buahaha!

  12. Freiddie says:

    I’m not sure why, but there’s a lot of conspiracy comments recently at UT. Sigh.

  13. Rey says:

    What’s next, a Coke bottle on Mars 😀

  14. Astrofiend says:

    BAUT means uninformed and low IQ Says:
    December 1st, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Look, could you just stop using caps lock in an annoying attempt to make your comment stand out? We’ll read it anyway, and despite what you may believe, it doesn’t communicate your point with anymore conviction than normal lower-case sentences with proper grammar.

    Honestly, why do you do it?

  15. Chuck R. says:

    Intriguing article. Got my hopes up with that title though! :)

  16. Silver Thread says:

    Quickly, someone tell Fangorn, we’ve found the Entwives on Mars!

  17. Keith L Butler says:

    I have thoroughly inspected the images of the :wood plank” and having found no serial number have reached the conclusion this is not a NASA plank.

    I have further reached the conclusion that without a red star, or a hammer & cycle that this is n0t from a Soviet or other Communist source.

    Applying this typical thorough and scientific logic my final conclusion is that this plank IS a part of Noah’s Arc, and therefore is the property of the Vatican. The specific part of the Arc from which this plank comes will require further investigation and that therefore another $5-billion dollar project should be commissioned to study thje feasibility of sending another lander to take more pictures investigating the feasibility of landing closer to the plank and thereby determine it’s exact comnposition without burning the plank by the landing rocket exhaust.

    (Did I spell everything right this time?)

  18. Steve says:

    I’ve never heard such nonsense. Wooden spaceships? Come on, everyone knows that these were conventional ships, used in the many canals on Mars.

    Some people will believe anything…

  19. john says:

    These photos look like the type of pranks Geology professors play on biology students doing a fill in Geology subject. I hd it done to me. Sorry folks they are rocks. Enjoy.

  20. Ian Grech says:

    I believe it is from a wooden rocket used in the 18th Century by Victorian England in a push to extend the Empire outwards!

  21. jayfb says:

    So, what’s next? Fridge on Mars?

  22. Jon says:

    Oh wow a plank!!!

  23. fsm says:

    The explanation is simple – its the Captain’s log.. :-)

  24. jayfb says:

    OMG, you see the white thing on the left? I resized it and yes! It is a fridge on Mars?
    http://img242.imageshack.us/my.php?image=clipboard02as5.jpg

  25. jayfb says:

    Keith, I strongly believe the Synagogue will strongly disagree with the plank being a property of the Vatican 😉

  26. TD says:

    The question I’d like to see addressed is whether there is any connection to biology to the “Blueberries”. I’ve read that they are composed of at least some hematite, but not that they’re 100% – are they? Could they be a result of a biological process? Even an ancient one? Many features of them suggest a biological process was involved.

  27. marcellus says:

    I think it is the same plank that was photographed on Mount Ararat.

  28. Irwin Weisberg says:

    OK, so this Plank theory isn’t constant. But how do you know it isn’t from the captain’s log of the Enterprise, from some old Startrek episode whose broadcast has finally reached Mars?

  29. not says:

    Mount Ararat found on Mars?

  30. NLane says:

    Cut it out guys. Space is no joke; it is actually out there!
    NLane

  31. Graeme says:

    Yep, That’s a plank alright! It was orginally part of a bridge that got washed away down a canal during one of those martian storms…

  32. Marco says:

    TD:

    Deer droppings are also the same size and shape as blueberries. The color and, likely, the taste is different. Maybe those ‘blueberries’ on Mars are fossilized deer droppings, making them indisputably biological in origin. If they are deer poop, then that means there is a high probability of antelope and buffalo poop piles too (as pointed out in the famous American folk song). Proving the existence of Martian deer would be a huge boon to cheap human spcae travel. Within a week or two there would be fleets of space pickup trucks, with raygun racks in the back indows, as hunters headed for Mars.

  33. Marco says:

    If there is to be no humor in space, then it can stay out there while we stay in here. Humor is a great human gift. Until we bring back some Martian blueberries and prove they aren’t deer poop, we can laugh about the possibilities. Once we do bring some back and prove they aren’t, then we can start the conspiracy theories about why NASA is denying the Martian Deer Poop Theory (MDPT). If the MDPT is what is takes to get us to Mars faster, then poop on.

  34. maudyfish says:

    Hope that fridge has beer!! Ice cold!!

  35. Michael says:

    And let us not forget to remove the plank from our eyes before we remove the speck from another’s.

  36. Bobby says:

    Pretend for a second that the object in the picture really is a piece of wood. Can we have a show of hands of all the planetary scientists who would come out and say that it is a piece of wood. Anybody? Didn’t think so.

    OK now continue pretending that it really is a piece of wood, how many planetary scientists would identify it as a rock no matter what it really is? All of you? Unanimous then.

    So regardless of whether the object really is a piece of wood or not the planetary scientists are all going to say it is a rock.

    OK, suppose one of the pictures had what appeared to be a rectangular piece of wood with the words “Burma Shave” painted on it. Show of hands of all the Planetary Scientists who would explain that away as a rock weathered by Martian sandstorms. Pretty much all of you still huh?

    I’ve seen a lot of rocks in my life – I suspect that so have the rest of the non planetary scientists reading this.

    OK, all the normal people: how many of you have ever seen a natural rock that looked like a statue of a girl, or one that looked like a wooden plank? Show of hands – anybody – even a drunk, seriously anyone?

    So my question to the planetary scientists is why should anyone listen to you guys?

  37. Owain says:

    Because we’re planetary scientists! QED

  38. green card says:

    Why this web site do not have other languages support?

  39. ish says:

    Could you tell who cut the two ends of that sulfur-rich outcropping ?

  40. Chris says:

    Well ya know, its nice that this gets attention, but had they done their job they would have taken a thorough color and minerological analysis of what it was made of, instead it was simply ignored for the most part. The reason they are not shouting from the roof tops is because they just assumed they knew what it was, for all they know it could actually be a log, but the proper science was not done to be sure.

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