Sorry, it’s not a secret door you’re looking at on Mars

This story is part Welcome to Marsour series exploring the red planet.

Do you know what I would like? Definitive proof of extraterrestrial life on Mars. Give me tentacle monsters, a civilization of aliens living in underground bunkers. Fulfill my sci-fi fantasies. A recent image from NASA’s Curiosity rover of a strange rock formation on the Red Planet has led to some fun speculation, but it’s not evidence of extraterrestrial activity. Drat.

Goofy Mars rocks are the spice of life for me, and this one is a delight. I came across it on Tuesday in a since-deleted Reddit thread, asking what could have caused a door-like cutout in the side of a Mars hill. The view comes from a series of raw images captured by Curiosity’s mast-mounted camera on May 7.

A mosaic view of Mars from Curiosity puts the “gate” into context.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Red Circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

UFO debunker UFO of Interest addressed the image of what looks like “an entrance to a secret underground tunnel” by sharing a broader look at the landscape. “Looking at it in context as part of the whole mosaic, we can see this little niche in a rock with other boulders, fractures, shapes and other erosive features all over that rock face,” UFO of Interest tweeted Wednesday.

Images of Mars can be tricky. An eroded funky the rock can look like a fish. A backlit cliff may look like profile of a face. Cropped photos and magnified views can make tiny items look big. The “gate” could be completely unremarkable if the shadows fell from a different angle.

This isn’t meant to discourage the joy of finding oddly shaped rocks and landscape features on Mars. We absolutely must revel butt cracks and Zen gardens and whimsical bows. But perhaps most magically, we have a wheeled robot spinning in Gale Crater, sending back otherworldly photos.

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