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May 13 2013

Fossil fish found on Mars!

Wait, not really. I should change that headline to “Pareidolia found on Mars!”, but then you’d all shrug your shoulders and say, “so what else is new?” I’ve got to do something to suck you in.

Anyway, there’s this whole weird subculture that’s been around since at least the 90s — I recall spending some time arguing with Mark Carlotto, an “expert in image processing”, at a lecture in Philadelphia some years ago, and these people were off-the-wall even then. The fudging and cheating he was doing to turn Mars Orbiter photos into vistas of ancient ruined Barsoomian cities was disgraceful. But even he showed some integrity with to the tools of image enhancement (not much, some) compared to the other bozos who spend hours staring at photos from Mars and imagining all kinds of weird and amazing things. For example, here’s one that’s supposed to be a “complete side view of a fossilized fish”. Look upon it, and believe!

martianfishFishLined

Oh, I better explain. The photo in the middle is an actual fossilized fish, from Earth. The picture at the top is a Martian mesa which someone thought looks like a fish, kinda like how this cloud outside my window right now looks like a woman’s breasts. In case you are unconvinced by the resemblance, the bottom picture is the same as the top one, with the fish drawn in by hand. That should persuade you, right?

Conveniently, they tell you what photo it’s taken from: it’s Mars Global Surveyor M0807345. Here’s a higher resolution photo of the same feature. The fishiness is even less apparent.

m0807345

NASA also provides the scale for the image. That mesa is about 750 meters long! Somehow I don’t think it’s a fossil fish, unless they grew really big on Mars.

But there’s more! Here’s a feature that looks like a sculpted Olmec head, if you squint so hard your eyes are closed.

OlmecFishOlmecHead

Those of you who didn’t quite close your eyes might have noticed something else: this is the very same feature that was called a fossil fish above. One orientation, fish; rotate it 90°, it becomes a stylized human head.

Shouldn’t someone have stopped at this point and realized that the similarities are entirely in the viewer’s head? But no, that’s no fun, not when you imagine you’re on the track of Martians. So let’s get weirder.

Here’s a picture of the Martian landscape; you can see the “fish” near the top. The rest looks like a jumble, so we’ve got to fix that with some sophistimacated image processing techniques. See the red line? They’re going to take everything on the right side of that line, and duplicate its mirror image to the left side, because apparently that’s how Martian brains work.

Demarcation2

And when you add a plane of mirror symmetry, MAGIC!

tiger

It’s a tiger! Don’t you see it? It’s obvious!

You know, this is what our brain does all the time. Add a hint of bilateral symmetry (or cheat blatantly and artificially create the bilateral symmetry), and our brains fill in the details and impose an interpretation on it.

I’m sorry, Martian fan-guy, but all your photos show are rough-hewn mesas and barren fields strewn with rubble.

55 comments

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  1. 1
    trj

    Stupid tigers. Always trying to trick us.

  2. 2
    LykeX

    What I notice most about the first picture is that, despite the superficial resemblance in the general outline, it completely lacks all the fine detail of the genuine fossil.

  3. 3
    composer99

    I for one welcome our new enormous fossil fish overlords.

    What? It’s a geological formation?

    Damn.

  4. 4
    Tsu Dho Nimh

    I’ll haveto send you my proof that ancient Egyptians settled the Socorro NM area … carved the image of a pharaoh’s head and headdress in the rocks outside of town.

    If you squinch your eyes just right it’s clear as the Rio Grande.

  5. 5
    tiberiusbeauregard

    grrrrrrr….. the headline is so mean :ß
    how cool would it be to actually find even a single fossil on mars ?

  6. 6
    raven

    This seems to be a not too exotic neurological condition.

    I know a woman who collects fossils. Or so she thinks.

    They are just random rocks with a vague resemblance to other objects.

    She has a lot of fossil eggs which are just oval river rocks. A few fossil brains. Some fossil eyes and feet.

    I doubt if anyone has ever bothered to dispute her identifications. It just seems to be entirely futile and anyway, she apparently finds it interesting.

  7. 7
    steve oberski

    that’s been around since at least the 90s

    Yes, since the 1890s:

    For the next fifteen years he studied Mars extensively, and made intricate drawings of the surface markings as he perceived them. Lowell published his views in three books: Mars (1895), Mars and Its Canals (1906), and Mars As the Abode of Life (1908). With these writings, Lowell more than anyone else popularized the long-held belief that these markings showed that Mars sustained intelligent life forms.

    His works include a detailed description of what he termed the ‘non-natural features’ of the planet’s surface, including especially a full account of the ‘canals,’ single and double; the ‘oases,’ as he termed the dark spots at their intersections; and the varying visibility of both, depending partly on the Martian seasons. He theorized that an advanced but desperate culture had built the canals to tap Mars’ polar ice caps, the last source of water on an inexorably drying planet.

  8. 8
    LykeX

    @tiberiusbeauregard
    That would be incredibly interesting, especially if it was an organism as complex as a fish (which I very much doubt, but you never know).

    The big question then would be whether the life on Mars was related to ours or if it had a separate origin. Either way, it would be fascinating.

  9. 9
    laurentweppe

    The fudging and cheating he was doing to turn Mars Orbiter photos into vistas of ancient ruined Barsoomian cities was disgraceful

    I’m sorry, but turning Mars Orbiter photos into vistas of ancient ruined Barsoomian cities is not disgraceful, it’s awesmoe. It’s not calling it fanart which is disgraceful. I, for one, wants more Barsoomian ruins drawn from real photos of Mars (and also a sequel to John Carter and Disney stopping their sabotage of every unrelated to Marvel Sci-Fi IP they own) who’s with me?

  10. 10
    jamessweet

    Dude, you know what this means… THE CLOUDS ON EARTH ARE FULL OF FOSSILS! My 4-year-old son just spotted a fossilized train in the clouds yesterday…

  11. 11
    jstackpo

    Yeah, but what I really wanted to see was a picture of that “cloud outside my window”.

    Utter (so to speak) disappointment.

  12. 12
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    About a week ago we saw Dog in the sky.
    It was perfect evidence that Dog exists. First Dog was lying on its tummy, snout rested on paws, ten minutes later Dog was lying on its back with the paws in the air.
    I believe in Dog

  13. 13
    Sastra

    Hey, somebody should alert Eagleman, the genius who came up with Possibilianism.

    Fossil fish on Mars? Could be, could be. Shouldn’t commit ourselves one way or the other now, should we? Anything is possible. Oh, how spiffy it is to avoid drawing any conclusions and just be totally open to the possibilities. Science thrives on this! Yes! It’s possible that it does!

  14. 14
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Everyone knows there’s no such thing as Mars.

  15. 15
    jamessweet

    You know, when I saw the title of the post, I figured there was a 99.9+% chance that it was going to be pareidolia, but I hadn’t checked my news feed recently, so that <0.1% chance you weren't joking still made my heart skip a beat…. O, what a wondrous day that would be…

  16. 16
    jamessweet

    Hey, somebody should alert Eagleman, the genius who came up with Possibilianism.

    Fossil fish on Mars? Could be, could be. Shouldn’t commit ourselves one way or the other now, should we? Anything is possible. Oh, how spiffy it is to avoid drawing any conclusions and just be totally open to the possibilities. Science thrives on this! Yes! It’s possible that it does!

    No no, run with this… this exposes both the ways in which Eagleman is right, and the ways in which he is being a misleading prick.

    There MIGHT BE fossilized fish on Mars. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that anybody who pronounces, “There are no fossilized fish on Mars”, is full of shit. We really don’t know, and although it would be pretty shocking to discover fish fossils on the red planet, it wouldn’t be overthrowing-all-of-known-science caliber shocking. So when Eagleman says, “Hey, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of god-like beings in the universe,” I’m more or less with him: I’d bet good money against it at this point, but there could very well turn out to be god-like beings without overthrowing all of physics.

    This picture IS NOT a fossilized fish on Mars, and we should all point and laugh at the people who say it is. That’s where Eagleman goes off the rails, is in implying we shouldn’t point and laugh at the people who say, “Ermuhgawd, JEEEBUS!” No, there is no fucking Jesus, there is no Allah, there is no Vishnu, there is no Xenu, and all of that shit is fuckin’ stupid. As stupid as a 750m fish-mesa on Mars. Eagleman’s reluctance to point and laugh at those people is his undoing.

  17. 17
    PZ Myers

    #11: It’s easy. All cumulous clouds look like women’s breasts.

    At least I think so.

  18. 18
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    jamessweet
    Just for you

  19. 19
    marko

    Don’t know about tiger, all I could see was a squid staring back at me.

  20. 20
    alasdhair

    What Olmec head?

    It’s clearly Judge Dredd…

  21. 21
    michaelbusch

    @Tsu Dho Nimh @4: Another member of the Horde in Socorro?

    And I haven’t heard that particular bit of pseudoscience before. Which set of rocks is it supposed to be? Can’t be M Mountain – the shape isn’t near right.

  22. 22
    Pteryxx

    #11: It’s easy. All cumulous clouds look like women’s breasts.

    At least I think so.

    PZ, perhaps you meant mammatus clouds.

    …Though that’s not what I see when *I* look at them. <_<

  23. 23
    Azuma Hazuki

    You arrogant scientists, all wrapped up in psychology and neuroscience and common sense!

    It’s OBVIOUS that Mars is the planet Darius and this is where the Belser Army and its horde of piscine and aquatic battlecruisers are stationed! Do you not SEE how perfectly this replicates the shape of the warship Deadly Crescent, resting beneath the dust?

    …oh lord, that’s Bacterion on the side of it too! The Belser and Bacterion armies have joined forces! Someone scramble the Vic Viper and Silver Hawks!

    (Extra-special bonus points if you know why Mars CAN’T be the Belser base due to having played Darius II…)

  24. 24
    Mobius

    A 1/2 mile long fish? Man, imagine reeling in that one. Sure to make the record books.

  25. 25
    marko

    Man, imagine reeling in that one.

    Well, one fella came close. Went by the name of Homer. Seven feet tall he was, with arms like tree trunks. His eyes were like steel, cold, hard. Had a shock of hair, red like the fires of Hell.

  26. 26
    ChasCPeterson

    It’s a tiger! Don’t you see it? It’s obvious!

    I was thinking more ‘wolf spider’ but now that you mention it…

    no. Still no. *shrug*

  27. 27
    ChasCPeterson

    I mean, a tiger with mouthparts like that wouldn’t even be, like, a tiger anymore.

  28. 28
    Glen Davidson

    It’s the Jesus fish.

    Geez, anyone can see that, except for Darwinist preverts.

    Glen Davidson

  29. 29
    Sili

    Someone tell Simcha Jacobovich. Then he’ll go look for the first Christians on Mars. That man sees fishes everywhere (and if he doesn’t, his loyal photoshopper does).

  30. 30
    Amphiox

    1/2 mile long? Pfft! They did their reconstruction wrong. That blob they think is a tail is just the first gill arch. This fossil is incomplete (how often do you find fully complete fossils anyways?). It’s just the head! And that dot back from the snout is clearly a palatial tooth, making this not just a fish, but an EEL (like a Moray). The living organism would easily have been over 5 miles long!

  31. 31
    gridironmonger

    The mars pic-fossilized fish-overlay images remind me of Harun Yahya/Adnan Oktar and his Atlas of Creation.

  32. 32
    doubtingt

    Isn’t it obvious? NASA has finally located Noah’s Ark.

  33. 33
    Alex Samaras

    Ehhh… That last one looks more like Admiral Ackbar to me.

    IT’S A TRAAAAP!

  34. 34
    Kagato

    1/2 mile long? Pfft! They did their reconstruction wrong. That blob they think is a tail is just the first gill arch. This fossil is incomplete (how often do you find fully complete fossils anyways?). It’s just the head! And that dot back from the snout is clearly a palatial tooth, making this not just a fish, but an EEL (like a Moray). The living organism would easily have been over 5 miles long!

    Scientific reconstruction

  35. 35
    Kagato

    And these guys are really unobservant.
    There are so many more significant features present in that landscape than they’re pathetic examples.

    Here are just the first three I spotted.

    This is beyond the ken of mere mortals. There are clearly greater things at work here. (One even appears to be “the greatest”!)

  36. 36
    Kagato

    Argh! they’re their!

    Proofread after you reword a sentence, you fool!

  37. 37
    Silentbob

    @ 7 steve oberski

    I don’t know if Percival Lowell counts, that wasn’t exactly pareidolia. But the “Face on Mars” and surrounding “pyramid complex” (from Viking Orbiter photos) was all the rage among woomeisters in the late 70′s.

  38. 38
    Rip Steakface

    PZ, that headline is cruel.

  39. 39
    chigau (違う)

    PZ, that headline is cruel.

    Truth.
    There should have been more !!!!!!

  40. 40
    FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!)

    Dammit!

    What happens on Mars is suppose to stay on Mars!

    Bloody surveillance culture….

  41. 41
    chigau (違う)

    Ha!
    I just knew that FossilFishy was involved!

  42. 42
    davidgibson

    OK..i was a rube in the 70′s and payed a quarter to see the two headed calf.or in the case of the mars face when there was no web to see stuff for free i bought the book just to see what the buzz was all about.
    after flipping thru it and having a laugh it struck me the joke was on me.i shelled out $9.99 to see a “two headed calf”.

  43. 43
    DLC

    Fish Slapping Dance ?

  44. 44
    torgo

    I don’t know. Pretty sure that last one is Admiral Ackbar looking directly at me.

  45. 45
    BaldySlaphead

    Immediately to the left of the fish, you can clearly see the jester from the cover of Marillion’s 1983 single “He Knows You Know”, and – definitive proof coming up – Marillion’s lead singer back then was a gentleman known as… Fish.

    If that’s not real, I don’t know what is.

    Pic with comparison here: https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc1/419697_557073934336918_1167299198_n.jpg

    Wibble.

  46. 46
    bbgunn

    Funny that Jeebus can manage to put his face on a grilled cheese sandwich or tree bark, but he can’t manage to stamp his face on the Martian surface. You’d think that would be the perfect billboard for advertising his existence.

  47. 47
    WharGarbl

    I like this one better.
    Galle crater
    Hm… perhaps those Martians are trying to say “Welcome aliens!”

  48. 48
    Amphiox

    People, people! We are missing the forest for the trees here. This finding reconciles the Aquatic Ape and Space Ape hypotheses. The aquatic phase occurred on Mars. The ancestral 10 mile tall fish hunters reduced their size to better achieve escape velocity in the transition to the space phase.

  49. 49
    David Marjanović

    There MIGHT BE fossilized fish on Mars. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that anybody who pronounces, “There are no fossilized fish on Mars”, is full of shit.

    Then I’ll need to eat more rice and chocolate; I don’t have constipation just yet.

    Fish, vertebrates, on Mars would require either interplanetary travel from Earth or, even less probably, convergence of Star Trek proportions. This is so unlikely that I didn’t even slightly fall for the headline. I immediately thought “LOL, creationist or other wacko has pareidolia again”.

  50. 50
    blf

    That’s not a fossil fish. The scale makes clear: It’s a hieroglyphic, probably Mayan, guiding the incoming Mayans and their ancient astronaut friends on “comet” Siding Spring, where to land next year. Look for some Nazca lines and you’ll have found the spaceport.

  51. 51
    llewelly

    David Marjanović :

    “Fish, vertebrates, on Mars would require either interplanetary travel from Earth or, even less probably, convergence of Star Trek proportions. This is so unlikely that I didn’t even slightly fall for the headline. ”

    I will grant pareidolia is much more likely.

    But rocks do occasionally undergo interplanetary travel. There are Martian meteorites on Earth. They do not contain fossils(0), but this is presumably because fossils are extremely rare (at best) on Mars.

    Earth has suffered many collisions strong enough to eject rocks into interplanetary orbit. Many areas of the crust contain fossils, and so it’s reasonable to suppose a significant minority of such ejected rocks contain fossils(1). And maybe some of those fossil-bearing ejected rocks ended up on Mars. And if a fossil /did/ make it to Mars, it would be more likely to be a fish than a mammal or a dinosaur, because, fish fossils are more common on Earth. (Fossil foraminifera are much more likely …)

    So, “… convergence of Star Trek proportions …” is not required, and the interplanetary travel surely occurs, though probably not frequently enough to put a fish fossil where it might be found.

    But is possible someone will decide Mars is a wonderful place to look for meteorites(2), and maybe one day such a search will be dedicated enough to turn up a few earth meteorites containing fossils. Maybe.

    (0) Yes, I am deliberately avoiding all the exciting controversy in the mid 1990s over David S. McKay’s paper. It was very interesting, but I found the counterarguments quite convincing.

    (1) Actually, most earth-striking meteorites strike ocean, and most ocean bottom is sedimentary rock, and contains fossil foraminifera. Maybe it’s not a minority …

    (2) There are probably scientists who make the suggestion every time a mission to the Martian surface is proposed.

  52. 52
    Crissa

    These guys took all the fun out of saying X looks like Y.

  53. 53
    Amphiox

    Fish, vertebrates, on Mars would require either interplanetary travel from Earth or, even less probably, convergence of Star Trek proportions.

    A “fishy” or “fish-like” extraterrestrial fossil may not be completely beyond the pale, in the sense of an impression of a marine organism with a torpedowy body-shape, since it is likely that the form will arise from convergence for swimming efficiency.

    A fossil with visible internal structure, ie vertebrae or at least a notochord like thing would depend on whether or not the chordate body-plan/organization is likely to convergently evolve in the transition to a metazoan grade of organization in an ocean environment. There may be the possibility that the environmental restraints on evolving an embryology from a single-celled starting point in an aqueous environment constrains the number of possible phylum-level body plans that evolution can produce, and it is possible that earth’s biota in fact explored nearly all of those possibilities. Of course that is still 30+ body plans, and the vertebrates are a far more specific elaboration on the chordate plan.

    In the case of Mars, though, it would also require the evolution a metazoan grade organization over 10 times quicker than it took on Earth.

  54. 54
    Useless

    I take it then, that you are claiming not to see these rather obvious images? Certainly, you remember the human head on Mars from several years ago. Things just grow much larger on Mars.

  55. 55
    anchor

    …there’s this whole weird subculture that’s been around since at least the 90s

    Oh no, that culture has been around since at least the 1970s…as soon as one of the Viking orbiters sent back a rather poor resolution image (by today’s standards) of something they construed as a ‘face’ in the Cydonia region of Mars, the idiots began to salivate. It never takes them long to see stuff, ya know…a mere matter of a few minutes. (They even attributed pixel blots to eyes). It didn’t take long for these super-perceptive folks to recognize signs of an ancient Martian civilization in the surrounding region, so that every plateau and eroded prominence in the vicinity of the ‘face’ swiftly became their architectural handiwork.

    Just look up Richard Hoagland.

    What’s hilarious is how impoverished their pareidoliacal imagination is. Its apparent that those who claim to see stuff that isn’t there are simply more vocal than anyone else is about having uncovered a great ‘discovery’ that is being systematically concealed by that bastion of government-sponsored science NASA from the public’s right to know. Of course, NASA undergoes no pains whatsoever in providing all science imagery openly and freely to the public, who may interpret them anyway they wish. The real revelation here is that that small semi-schizophrenic proportion of the public most predisposed to investing significance to pareidoliac interpretation are precisely those who are most apt to bark it up – the same set who see Jesus in a potato chip; the sort seem to think their view of the world is impervious to imperfection, let alone mere error.

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