August 18, 2022

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NASA Orbiter Spots Wonky Mars Crater Shaped Like an Ear

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

Oh, Mars, you’re such a goof. You’ve got a “happy face” crater and an eyeball crater. But you weren’t content to rest on your laurels, so now you’ve given us a new body part to contemplate. Behold, the “ear” crater. 

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter peered down from above and spotted a funky crater shaped like an ear, as if Mars was attentively listening for sounds from the solar system. The sighting comes from the MRO HiRise camera team at the University of Arizona.

The HiRise crew called out the phenomenon of pareidolia, which is responsible for humans imaginatively seeing things like faces and butts in Martian rock formations. It’s what helps us see sheep and dragons in clouds here on Earth.

“Is it pareidolia, where we see features like faces and patterns where they do not really exist, if the shape really does resemble something? In this case, we’re looking at an odd-shaped impact crater that looks a great deal like an ear,” the team wrote in a picture-of-the-day feature for Friday. “And once you see it, it’s almost impossible to un-see.” MRO captured the snap in late 2020.

The crater is a little more than 5,900 feet (1,800 meters) across and is in a region called Chryse Planitia, a plains area in Mars’ northern hemisphere. As this one shows, not all Mars craters are nicely round. In recent years, we got to meet this lopsided crater that may have been shaped by collapsed material, and a wild-looking overlapping crater triplet that may have been formed by one impacting object breaking up on its way down.

The ear raises the question: If Mars is listening, what would you say to it? I would lean in and whisper, “Please be nice to our rovers.”