The Mouse on Mars

No, that’s not the title of a 1960s’ sitcom or a 1950s’ movie. It’s what some conspiracy theorist thinks he found in a NASA photograph taken by the Curiosity Rover on Mars, in late 2014. The story was posted on the IFL Science website this week.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Why pay these poor, deluded wingnuts any attention when it’s such an obvious case of pareidolia?”

The answer is because they must be mocked in order to keep their silly gullibility from spreading to the scientifically-challenged. Not everyone who reads their content has your keen, critical eye, your cool common-sense approach, or your rigid scientific background (be it only from high school). Some folks out there beg to be deluded.

Some folks already believe in UFOs, ghosts, witches, homeopathic “remedies,” magic crystals, the NRA, and other codswallop. They are thus easily misled to believe in other nonsense.

You cannot argue with the conspiracists scientifically because that just drives them deeper into their holes where they retrench. Satire and ridicule, however, often prove more effective in keeping other gullible fools from joining them. Besides, you have to admit it’s hard not to laugh. A mouse on Mars? Chortle…

And this isn’t the only nutty thing this particular wingnut said he has “found” on Mars by looking at NASA’s images. Included in the list are a “chimp skull”, ziggurat, huge pyramid, buildings and building complexes, statue head, a Sphinx statue, a marina with shipwrecks, a blade in a jawbone, a rib bone, a femur, a saucer, a “gun camera”…

But wait, it gets better. He’s also “discovered” buildings and proof of alien life on the moon, Ceres, Comet 67P, Pluto – pretty much everywhere offworld we’ve sent vehicles, no matter how arid, inhospitable or simply daft it is (alien buildings on a comet? sheesh…).

YouTube is littered with videos purporting to be all sorts of alien structures on planets, asteroids and comets that some government agency is trying to conceal from you. And then there are the thousands of true believer websites that cater to the wingnuts (often in ways to retrieve money from their gullibility).

And just when you thought a mouse was the height of silliness, someone claims to have found a monkey on Mars. So that’s what happened to Justin Beiber’s pet….oh, well, it’s in The Express, and that paper has less credibility than a local blogger….

Yes, you can look at these images and, if you let your mind wander, blur your vision a bit, and turn off your analytical forebrain (a few glasses of wine will aid this process), you can “see” shapes. Like in this enlarged portion of the photo, to your right.

Looks like a mouse. A blurry, indistinct, pixelated mouse. Sort of. Of course the actual piece of image is about 80 x70 pixels, and the ‘mouse’ is quite a distance away, so you can’t be sure. Here’s the actual image (click on it to see it larger):

NASA's Mars mouse

This is the sort of image the wingnuts spend hours hovering over, at high magnification. Every rock, every outcrop, shadow gets analysed and imagined.

Just like you can see a face on the moon, a bunny in the clouds, of the face of Jesus on a grilled cheese sandwich, you can see a mouse. That’s what pareidolia is: finding recognizable objects in random or coincidental arrangements. We all do it. Just that most of us know they’re not real, just our imagination. The trick to sanity is in admitting it.

And don’t forget the “rat” sighted on Mars last spring. That discovery was posted by the mother-of-all wingnut sites, the UFO Sightings Daily. Imagine the effort you have to put in to your obsessive madness to post daily “sightings” of blurry photos re-imagined into bizarre, nonsensical objects like those in a medieval bestiary. Like the rarely seen alien “rod,” described as a

…cylinder shaped creatures that range in length from about 10 cm to 10 meters, and can travel at speeds of up to 300 mph.

I know, I laughed aloud, too, when I read that. As I did reading several other stories on that site. The sheer number, however, wore me out. You can only laugh so much before you worry about the poster’s sanity.

Most of the pictures presented for your edification are of medium-to-low resolution, so you can’t often see the details. Which is very convenient for the conspiracists since they can imagine almost anything in them.

But they’re grainy because they are compressed to take up less bandwidth when being transmitted  hundreds of thousands to billions of kilometers away. Curiosity, for example, has a short 15-20 minute window in which it can transmit the day’s pictures, and can only send around 31MB per day. Your cell phone takes bigger, clearer pictures.

Why, you ask, has no one ever produced a clear, well-defined, unmistakable photo that removed all doubt? Well, because clear, well-defined and unmistakable don’t play well with conspiracy theories.

The wingnuts have some bizarre conspiracy rationalization that says NASA is deliberately blurring the images, or only releasing low-res versions, to make sure we can’t really see for ourselves what’s happening on the celestial bodies around us. Every blur shows itself to them as some structure or creature NASA is trying to hide.

That’s why NASA spends so much money looking for life in the universe: so they can hide it in blurry pictures only conspiracy wingnuts can decipher. You’d think with all that government funding, NASA could afford at least Paintshop Pro to hide stuff better.

Despite the blurriness, the conspiracists magnify and magnify every image until they can “see” what they’re looking for in the pixels. Like the “stargate” on Pluto. Or the “ancient writing” on Mars. or the Star Wars-like droid

Daft buggers.

Of course, when they present their findings for the uncognoscenti, the conspiracists often find a little Photoshop goes a long way towards making indistinct, blurry lumps and humps into mouse-like and monkey-like silhouettes. And what wonders it does for clarifying the alien housing. How can they afford such software when NASA cannot?

Why is it that credible scientists, like astrophysicists or astronomers never find these creatures and structures? Why is it always some unemployed troglodyte living in his in-law’s basement and spending his whole day surfing the internet who “discovers” this stuff?

No, I won’t go over the nonsensical notion of a Martian hairy rodent that looks exactly like an Earth mouse, except massively larger (60-90 cm) than an actual mouse, but still with with cute ears, nose and tail. Nor what a mammal would breathe (Mars has about 0.6% of Earth’s atmospheric pressure, and only trace amounts of oxygen) or eat (no plants exist on the frigid, radiation-whipped surface).

But a mouse that honkin’ big does explain why they haven’t found any cats on Mars yet… just cat statues

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