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NASA Looks Down at Mars, Spots Bear's Face Looking Back

But what, exactly, created the funny formation?

An orbiter view of a Mars surface formation in black and white. There's a round circular line, two eye-like divots and a raised portion that looks like a snout. The whole thing resembles a bear's face.
A formation on the surface of Mars sure looks like a bear's face looking back up at NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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

Is that you, Smokey? NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped a view of Mars that will likely trigger your pareidolia instincts. Pareidolia is the human tendency to see familiar objects in random shapes. In this case, you're totally looking at a bear.

The University of Arizona runs the HiRise (High Resolution Imaging Experiment) camera on board MRO. It featured the bear-like formation as a HiRise image of the day on Wednesday. 

The "face," captured by MRO in December, is bigger than your average bear. A version of the image with a scale shows it stretches roughly 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) across.

Since we've established this isn't a real bear's face or even bear art made by Mars' nonexistent intelligent aliens, what is it? "There's a hill with a V-shaped collapse structure (the nose), two craters (the eyes), and a circular fracture pattern (the head)," the HiRise team said. "The circular fracture pattern might be due to the settling of a deposit over a buried impact crater." The nose might be formed by a volcanic or mud vent, so the material deposited over the crater could be lava or mud. 

HiRise has a knack for finding imaginative faces on Mars. There's the Happy Face Crater, Beaker from The Muppet Show and, oddly enough, Ed Asner. So spotting a bear's mug is just another day on the red planet. Said the HiRise team, "Maybe just grin and bear it."