NASA’S Mars Curiosity rover snapped a picture of an unusual looking foreign object hiding in the red Martian soil – but what is it?
NASA’s scientists dubbed the mysterious find the Pettegrove Point Foreign Object Debris (PPFOD), named after the location where it was found.
The internet quickly erupted with intense speculation about the object’s origin with theories ranging from spacecraft debris to evidence of UFO presence on Mars.
Scientists behind the Mars mission initially assumed the PPFOD was either a bizarre Martian rock or a piece of the Curiosity rover that had broken off.
But online skeptics and conspiracy theorists dismissed the suggestions, claiming NASA was trying to conceal the truth.
Many of those who saw the object were convinced it looked too symmetrical to be a natural rock formation.
Others maintained a broken off piece of the Curiosity rover was too simple of an explanation offered by the space agency.
One Twitter user, @rem_ack, tweeted: “Part of another craft? That really stands out and is very unconvincing as a rock.”
NASA news: The Curiosity rover snapped a picture of this unusual looking object on Mars
NASA news: The Martian rover’s scientific instruments examine the planet’s soil and rocks
Marty Q, @mwh52, posted: “Just a rock that was cut by some tool. Come on NASA don’t treat us like fools, give a more intelligent response than that.
“Explain the process of how it was formed or something other than it’s a rock.”
NASA has since analysed the object with Curiosity’s ChemCam RMI instrument – a tool designed for remote rock and soil identification.
Unsurprisingly, the analysis found the foreign object to be nothing more than a very thin flake of rock.
NASA’S Brittney Cooper said in a statement: “The planning day began with an interesting result from the previous plan’s ChemCam RMI analysis of a target that was referred to as ‘Pettegrove Point Foreign Object Debris’, and speculated to be a piece of spacecraft debris.
“In fact it was found to be a very thin flake of rock, so we can all rest easy tonight – Curiosity has not begun to shed its skin.
“Perhaps the target should have been given a different name befitting the theme of the current quadrangle in which Curiosity resides: ‘Rabhadh Ceàrr, or ‘False Alarm’ in Scottish Gaelic.”
This is not the first time a slightly unusual rock formation or landscape feature has been misinterpreted by eyes back on Earth as something else entirely.
Last week, NASA jokingly shared a picture taken near the Marian South Pole of a rock formation with an uncanny resemblance to Beaker the Muppet, from The Muppet Show.
NASA presented the tongue-in-cheek picture as a classic example of a brain tease known as pareidolia.
Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon which causes people to see alien faces and spacecraft in pictures of the Moon and the Red Planet, where they do not exist.
NASA explained: “Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognisable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data.”