Pareidola: It’s not just for smart people anymore!

Good gads, some people are thick. Apparently, some idiot thinks he sees an iguana in a Mars rover photo. No, really. He thinks that. He says that “to say it’s just a rock would be very closed minded to the evidence at hand”. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Scott C. Waring, UFO enthusiast.

I promise I won’t make fun of the UFO thing. There’s a lot of unexplained phenomena in the world, and though UFO junkies usually get counted as crazies, plenty of them feel they have perfectly valid reasons to believe in those things. I’m cool with that. But I’ll gladly mock Scott for this, because there’s open-mindedness and then there’s Just Plain Stupid.

Close-up, the rock in the photo does look iguana-like. Let’s set aside issues of scale for the moment and assume this is a reasonable lizard size. The rock certainly does look like a lizard. Mostly. However its left rear leg is also clearly not separated from the rest of the body. So at best it’s like a carving that looks like an iguana, but wasn’t completed.

But there are bigger problems at work here. First off, Mars is a freaking desert. The water there is insufficient to live on. But that’s okay, because it’s way too cold anyway; any surface water would be in the form of a light ice covering, which is clearly not in evidence in that area. They’re cold-blooded, too. Iguanas also have lungs, but respiring oxygen is kind of a problem when there’s practically none of it. Mars’ atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, and it’s incredibly thin. An iguana would suffocate and suffer depressurization injuries in about an instant.

Okay, so it can’t be an Earth iguana. Of course not; how would it even get there? So maybe some kind of crazy coincidentally similar Martian iguana. Maybe it’s warm-blooded and has defenses against extreme cold. It would still need to breathe, because at this scale, oxygen matters. But let’s humor this guy and pretend that’s irrelevant. Crazy Martian iguana that can survive on the surface conditions. No problem. It still can’t exist.

What would an iguana eat on Mars? Insects have never been found on Mars, nor bugs of any kind. And what would an insect even eat there? No plants have been found either. Iguanas are actually relatively high up the food chain, which makes them difficult to sustain in a place with no known food chain whatsoever. Anything of considerable size has to either be able to draw energy from the sun itself (or lesser sources), which an animal form is terrible at, or it has to ingest significant calories and nutrients from other living creatures that can concentrate that energy. In other words, there should be much more evidence of an iguana’s food sources than of the iguana itself, even in a desert environment.

Mars is a very low-energy environment. It gets ample sun, but its atmosphere is terrible and its soil conditions abysmal. Its interior is too cool to sustain much from below. On Earth we have extremeophile bacteria that might thrive under conditions found there, if transplanted. Yet we have little evidence (but not none) that any bacteria ever existed on Mars other than whatever we’ve inadvertently sent over. Oh sure, there are theories that maybe life on Mars could have seeded Earth, and I’m sure there are some meteors there that have Earth bacteria, but basically there’s nothing conclusive to say the planet ever had life.

If Mars does have life, it’s likely only bacterial, and probably doesn’t live at the surface. Surface bacteria would tend to draw energy from the sun, and would be evident by some kind of color shift. Below the surface is a better bet. But down there, the low-energy conditions mean it’s unlikely any higher-level forms exist. And the odds get progressively worse with greater complexity, because complex life can only exist in the presence of a complex biome.

Let’s break it down to the very basics for Scott: Statistically, you’ll photograph a hundred rabbits before you see a single wolf. You’ll see acres of trees and plants before you see a single rabbit.

So yes, it’s just a rock that looks like an iguana. Weird coincidence, but we’ve seen weirder. If you want a better explanation, one that’s still silly but many orders of magnitude more plausible, maybe some big conspiracy group got the Mars rover to bring up a figurine carved like a lizard, unloaded it secretly, and made sure a picture would be snapped. That’s at least something that physically could happen, even though it’s ridiculous. You have to admit it’d be an epic prank.

Maybe the next Martian animal photo will be my doing. I’ll finance the venture by selling Scott a perfectly nice bridge.


About Lummox JR

Aspiring to be a beloved supervillain
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