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

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.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
bugzzz
Member
bugzzz
December 1, 2008 12:50 PM

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.

maudyfish
Guest
maudyfish
December 1, 2008 12:59 PM

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.

maudyfish
Guest
maudyfish
December 1, 2008 1:01 PM

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

Hunnter
Member
Hunnter
December 1, 2008 1:42 PM

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.

BAUT means uninformed and low IQ
Guest
December 1, 2008 1:53 PM

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!

hammster
Guest
hammster
December 1, 2008 2:34 PM
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… Read more »
Joe
Guest
Joe
December 1, 2008 2:51 PM

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

Assi
Guest
December 1, 2008 2:55 PM

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?

bigguylittlecoat
Guest
bigguylittlecoat
December 1, 2008 3:53 PM

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!!

Sci-Fi Si
Guest
December 1, 2008 3:54 PM

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

trux
Guest
December 1, 2008 4:02 PM

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!

Freiddie
Member
December 1, 2008 4:29 PM

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

Rey
Guest
Rey
December 1, 2008 4:47 PM

What’s next, a Coke bottle on Mars grin

Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
December 1, 2008 4:55 PM

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?

Chuck R.
Guest
Chuck R.
December 1, 2008 5:53 PM

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

Silver Thread
Member
Silver Thread
December 1, 2008 10:10 PM

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

kbutler
Member
kbutler
December 2, 2008 7:35 AM
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… Read more »
EagleUK
Member
EagleUK
December 2, 2008 12:49 AM

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…

john
Guest
john
December 2, 2008 2:32 AM

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.

Ian Grech
Guest
Ian Grech
December 2, 2008 2:52 AM

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

wpDiscuz