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Sci-Tech

Curious NASA photo makes Mars look like the site of a spelling bee

It looks like someone's been scrawling letters on the red planet.

Mars is crossing its "T"s.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Weird and wonderful Mars has dished out another spellbinding visual treat for us to contemplate. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured an image of a landscape covered in dunes in the shapes of T's and V's. 

The MRO snapped the image in February, but the HiRise camera team from the University of Arizona highlighted it Sunday as a picture of the day, saying the formations also look like funnel shapes. The team was the first to notice the dunes' resemblance to letters

Is Mars trying to tell us to send TVs? We wish. We have yet to find any signs of life on the red planet. The alphabetical apparition is really just a nice example of pareidolia, the human tendency to see familiar patterns in unrelated shapes.

Windy, dusty Mars is home to quite a few exotic sand dune formations, some of which resemble features seen on Earth, while others are unique to the distant planet.

The MRO snapped a set of wiggly, worm-like dunes in 2017. They got their distinctive appearance from exposure to wind combined with the angle of the sun at the time the MRO captured the image. 

A wider view of the T and V dune field shows an impressive spread, with many connecting into each other.

This field of dunes on Mars has an alphabet flair to it.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

This isn't the first time it's felt like Mars is trying to communicate with us. A 2016 MRO image shows a set of dark dunes that looked a bit like Morse code. Either set of dunes would be a great prompt for the start of a sci-fi story, but they're not signs of intelligent alien life on the red planet.

First published Dec. 3, 12:30 p.m. PT.
Update, Dec. 4  at 2:23 p.m.: Adds more details about the image.