SCIENCE
09/02/2014 08:59 am ET

These 11 Mysterious Objects Spotted On Mars Simply Aren't What They Look Like

Is there life on Mars? While recent evidence indicates ancient water may once have supported life on the red planet, our search for E.T. has come up dry.

Of course, that hasn't stopped folks from trolling through photos taken by NASA rovers and probes -- spotting objects that look like faces, bones, and various critters.

Psychologists say the human brain is hard-wired to look for patterns, meaning, and even faces in images -- it's a phenomenon called pareidolia.

Want to experience a little off-planet pareidolia firsthand? Scroll down to see 11 "alien" objects spotted on Mars in recent months, and decide for yourself if you're looking at real signs of intelligent life...

...or just rocks.

  • "Face On Mars"
    NASA/JPL
    It doesn't get more classic than this. The Viking 1 spacecraft spotted this "Face on Mars" in 1976. Since then it's been featured in movies and TV shows. When the Mars Global Surveyor flew over and snapped sharper photos in 1998, the face was seen for what it really is: simply a mesa.
  • Iguana
    UFO Sighting Daily
    NASA's Curiosity rover captured this cutie on Mars in January 2013. The rock does bear a remarkable likeness to an iguana -- it's got a tail, dewlap and even an "eye." But again, this is just a rock.
  • Finger
    NASA/JPL
    Curiosity captured this "finger" in 2012, and we can definitely see the resemblance to a human digit -- it even has what looks like a fingernail. But it's a rock. A rock, people!
  • Woman
    NASA/JPL
    When the Mars rover Spirit captured this image of a human-like figure in 2007, alien enthusiasts hoped it might finally be a sign of alien life on the red planet. Scientists' verdict? Rock.
  • "Mars Rat"
    NASA/JPL
    The "Mars rat" was found in a March 2013 image from the Curiosity rover. The rat took the Internet by storm -- and even got its own Twitter account. So, rock or tech-savvy rat?... It's just. A rock. For over a hundred years, you have searched for life in the universe and all you found was me! Prepare for the Mars Rat invasion!!— Mars Rat (@RealMarsRat) May 30, 2013
  • Thigh Bone
    NASA/JPL
    Last month, alien enthusiasts claimed to have found a "thigh bone" in an image taken on Mars. Again. We're going with rock.
  • Skull
    NASA/JPL/Cornell
    Spooky! This skull-like object was spotted in an image taken by the rover Spirit in 2006. Similar "skulls" have been spotted in subsequent rover images -- including a bird and a T. rex. Even an "alien's skull" was spotted. The verdict? ALL ROCKS.
  • Mysteriously Appearing Donut
    NASA/JPL-Caltech
    When a rock shaped like a jelly doughnut mysteriously appeared in front of the Opportunity rover in January 2014, everyone wondered how it got there. Was it dropped there by an alien cop on his coffee break? Nope. According to NASA, the rover flicked it into its own path.
  • Helmet
    NASA/JPL
    Bloggers spotted this "helmet" or "bowler hat" in a 2013 Curiosity photo. It's definitely a rock.
  • Door Handle
    NASA/JPL-Caltech
    This mysterious metallic-looking object that showed up in a Curiosity photo in 2013 may look like it flew off an alien's door. But according to NASA, it's just a hard, fine-grained rock that was "polished" by the wind.
  • Flower
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems
    This "flower" was spotted in a 2012 Curiosity photo. It's definitely not biological, but planetary scientist Aileen Yingst did tell Space.com that she would "hesitate to say what it is."

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