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Sci-Tech

Tempting blue pools in vivid Mars photo aren't what they seem

A recently released ESA image shows large lakes of blue on the surface of the Red Planet. Or does it?

mars-optical-illusion.jpg
If they're not lakes, then just what are they? ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Thus far, the search for water on Mars hasn't led to the discovery of any major sources of the stuff. Sure, we know that the planet probably used to have vast lakes and that mountains might show streaks of water down their sides, but so far, no South Pacific-like beaches. And, even though a recent picture from the European Space Agency shows what look like large blue pools on the Red Planet's surface, it turns out that -- alas -- the pools are just optical illusions.

"At first glance, this image seems to show something amazing in this crater, and in one of its neighbors to the right," the ESA explains, but really the color is just "an optical illusion caused by the image processing."

What those blue patches really are, according to the agency, is "dark sediments that have built up over time."

Ah, well, so much for that beach vacation on Mars.

The image was snapped by the ESA's Mars Express orbiter, which has been zipping around and spying on the Red Planet since December 2003. The picture was taken by one of the orbiter's high-tech cameras on the craft's 1,3728th orbit around the planet, in November 2014, and was featured as an image on the agency's website on Monday.

In addition to providing a big, "Fooled ya, no water here!" moment, the image shows the impact of high winds on Mars. The winds, which can reach speeds of up to 62 miles per hour (100 kph), both distribute the sediment and exert a scrubbing effect on the many impact craters that pock the planet's surface. The large 70-kilometer-wide crater on the left still has steep sides that have yet to be ground down by the winds, but other craters in the image are more eroded.

So even if those blue blotches had been lakes, with winds like that, "beach days" wouldn't come around very often. Oh, and even if they did, you wouldn't be able to breathe while lying out on your beach blanket. Come to think of it, a trip to Mars doesn't sound that appealing after all.