NASA’s Curiosity Rover Spotted a ‘Doorway’ on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover snapped a photo of a Lovecraftian feature on Mars’ surface last week: a seemingly rectangular, dark opening in the planet’s exposed rock that appears to lead to the Martian underground.

The image was captured on May 7 by the Curiosity rover’s Mastcam as it climbed Mount Sharp. While the grainy black-and-white image may have conspiracy theorists on the moon, it almost certainly doesn’t show the entrance of an underground alien society.

“It’s just the space between two fractures in a rock,” Ashwin Vasavada told Gizmodo in a phone call today. Vasavada is a project scientist at the Mars Science Laboratory, and he said training is definitely not the entry level dungeon of a video game. “We crossed an area that formed from ancient sand dunes,” he said. These sand dunes have been cemented together over time, creating the sandstone outcrops that Curiosity traverses.

Vasavada told us that the fracture is only about a foot high and once these sand dunes were compacted together they were buried and unearthed over time as the sand on the surface of Mars was moving. During this process, the sandstone was subjected to varying pressures, causing it to deform and fracture in different places. “The fractures we see in this area are usually vertical,” he explained. This particular gate-like fracture likely formed in two ways.

“I think what we have here [is] either two vertical fractures, where the middle piece was pulled out, or one vertical fracture, and the blocks moved apart a bit,” Vasavada said.

The Curiosity rover has been criss-crossing Mars since landing in August 2012 in Gale Crater. Since then, the rover has traveled 17.3 miles (27.84 kilometers) in 3,472 Martian days, or “sols.” When Curiosity is not collecting rock and soil samples, it takes photos using its panoramic Mastcam (mast + camera).

This Curiosity photo is another example of our tendency to see familiar shapes in an unfamiliar landscape. In the past, people thought they had seen all sorts of out-of-place things on Mars, including a squirrel and a spoon.

Leave a Comment