For nearly 10 years, NASA's Curiosity rover has been traversing Mars in an effort to learn more about the Red Planet's climate and geology. The goal is to understand if Mars has ever had conditions that were favorable to supporting life. Along the way, Curiosity's Mastcam has been snapping photographs that document the experience. All of the raw data is uploaded onto NASA's website and a particular image from May 7 is getting people excited.
The grainy, black-and-white photo shows what appears to be a doorway perfectly cut into the side of a rock. Almost tomblike, this mysterious feature has been stirring the imagination of those who believe in life on Mars. However, scientists warn that we shouldn't get too excited. To them, this “alien portal” is simply a natural phenomenon.
In a call with Gizmodo, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist Ashwin Vasavada stated that the door isn't at all what it appears. “It’s just the space between two fractures in a rock. We’ve been traversing through an area that has formed from ancient sand dunes.”
These dunes cemented together over time and created outcrops of sandstone. As the sandstone becomes buried and unburied due to shifts in the sand, cracks and breaks begin to form. That's how Vasavada believes that this particular crack was formed. To him, the foot high fracture was most likely due to vertical breaks that then moved apart.
While some people might still be skeptical, as Earth dwellers we do tend to recognize familiar objects in otherworldly places. A squirrel, spoon, and even a human face are just some of the other items that people have “seen” in photos of Mars.