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NASA Stares Down at Mars, Sees Bear's Face Staring Back

So 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.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

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 should trigger your pareidolia instincts. Pareidolia is the human tendency to see familiar objects in random shapes. In this case, it's totally 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."