This is an image of Mars, but let's pretend for a moment we don't know that and instead look at it like a weird form of Rorschach test. Maybe it looks like bacteria or amoebas under a microscope. Maybe it looks like bizarre sea creatures on the ocean floor.
The image actually shows a close-up look at a trough-like formation in the Mars landscape with channels draining into a surrounding depression in the ground.
NASA shared the shot from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Tuesday as a way to highlight the importance of the orbiter's CTX Context Camera in studying the Red Planet. The MRO's HiRISE camera takes spectacular high-resolution images of the planet's surface, while the lower-resolution CTX provides a bigger-picture view.
When NASA scientists see an image like this, they can then turn to the CTX camera to put it in perspective with the surrounding landscape and geologic formations. The bigger view of the bacteria-like image shows an impact crater with a peak in the center and the trough located a bit above it.
NASA says the odd-looking grooved areas look like regions that once experienced glacial flows.
Even though we have a good look at these strange formations, there's still an element of mystery here. "These depressions with concentric troughs exist elsewhere on Mars," the space agency says, "and their origins remain a matter of debate."