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No, the reclining 'alien figure' in NASA Mars rover image isn't proof of life

I think it looks like shirtless Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park.

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This Perseverance rover image from April 2021 shows a collection of rocks. The red circle highlights the one under discussion.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/Red circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

Combing through NASA Mars rover images looking for fun shapes in the rocks is a fun pastime, but it's important to remember those fishfaces and posteriors are just cool chunks of the landscape. Sometimes, goofy rock sightings leak into wider media, as with recent news of an "alien" seen in an image snapped by NASA's Perseverance rover. Some headlines are claiming the figure is "100% proof of intelligent life."

Let's break it down.

Scott Waring, who runs a UFO-focused site, highlighted a rover view with a flat rock with a shape on top of it, suggesting it was proof of life on the red planet. As a reminder, Mars is a horrifically inhospitable place and scientists haven't even found proof of ancient microbial life there, though explorers like Perseverance are looking for evidence.

Waring spotted the rock in a panoramic image posted to Gigapan. I traced that back to the original raw images taken by Perseverance in April 2021. Waring sees an "alien figure," a small person in a dark suit reclining and watching the rover. By zooming in to where it gets all fuzzy, I can see where that interpretation comes from.

Is that you, Ian Malcolm?

NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/Red circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

In my imagination, the "figure" looks like a tiny sculptural representation of that famous Jurassic Park scene where sweaty Jeff Goldblum is reclining like he's at a boudoir photo shoot.

I don't blame Waring for the excitement. I get positively giddy when I see a neat Martian rock (here's looking at you, butt rock). And I'd be thrilled if a day came when scientists found intelligent alien life traipsing across Mars. But photos of nifty rock shapes aren't proof of life, past or present, on Mars.

There's something beautiful in the human desire to find familiar objects, faces and figures in random rocks on Mars. I see it as a form of optimism, of hope that we're not the only planet inhabited by brainy beings. So please keep seeing wild things on Mars, but let us also know them for what they really are.