October 3, 2023

Taylor Daily Press

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An avocado on Mars?  Our brains are working overtime again thanks to a new image of the Mars rover Perseverance

An avocado on Mars? Our brains are working overtime again thanks to a new image of the Mars rover Perseverance

A new image from the Mars rover Perseverance suggests that millennials could also immerse themselves in Mars. But unfortunately…appearances are deceiving (again).

Anyone who takes a look at this photo will likely see something quickly recognizable. Especially if this person can count himself among the millennial generation or the so-called avocado generation. In the image – taken using one of the cameras mounted high on the Mars rover Perseverance – an object that looks suspiciously like a cut avocado is illuminated. Even the avocado pit is there!

However, closer examination soon reveals that our brain is playing tricks on us. Perseverance did not discover avocados on Mars, but spotted two rocks instead. Coincidentally, one of them had been somewhat eroded by corrosion – except for the middle section – creating the illusion of an avocado peel and the second, the plain stone next door suddenly also resembled an avocado peel – albeit transformed.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University.

It’s the classic example of pareidolia: a psychological phenomenon in which we suddenly think we see something recognizable in everyday objects – such as a stone. Another good example of pareidolia is when you see animals in the clouds, or a face in the foam of a cappuccino.

Pareidolia is thought to be caused by our brain’s strong need to make connections between things we encounter. It allows us to see patterns quickly. This is important, because it also allows us, for example, to quickly identify risk. For example, your brain can quickly make the much-needed connection between a rustle in the bushes and the silhouette of a predator. But sometimes our brain works too quickly and makes connections that simply do not exist.

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The latter happens to us often when we see photos taken on Mars. For example, people previously thought they saw a door on Mars.

In an image taken by the Mars rover Curiosity, a rock formation appears to have a door. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Ultimately, the door turned out to be much smaller than the Curiosity image would suggest (think: dog door size) and NASA revealed that it was an ordinary natural fracture in some rock.

the trees
In addition, people previously thought they had spotted trees on Mars (see image below). However, that was also an illusion: these “Martian trees” are nothing more and nothing less than dark sand being pushed to the surface through the dunes by carbon dioxide ice heated by the sun.

Image: NASA.

And recently our brain seemed to indicate that Martians like to read, too; On Mars, the Curiosity rover has spotted an object that looks suspiciously like an open book. But this was also “just” a stone that had been eroded in a special way, as NASA reminded us.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

There are many Martian objects that have previously sparked our imagination. How about the famous face on Mars, or that floating spoon, or the Star Trek logo on Mars? All illusions end up, thanks to our mind that likes to work overtime trying to protect us.