Rolling Rock or Walking Martian?

The Mars "walker" taking a stroll across the Red Planet's surface (AboveTopSecret.com)
The Mars walker taking a stroll across the Red Planets surface (AboveTopSecret.com)

So the new X-Files movie has been released (awesome), there’s been a surge in alien stories (on YouTube, the most reputable scientific resource), NASA astronauts are citing that UFOs are actually extraterrestrials visiting Earth (of course), and now we have beings with big heads having a stroll on the Martian surface. It must be the season for it…

These kind of articles always grab my interest, but it’s only recently that I’ve had the urge to post my thoughts about them on Astroengine. It’s strange how I’ve been drawn into these conspiracy tales, but when there is a more reasonable scientific explanation to the story, I can’t help but bring these hoaxes to light. However, I’m not saying all conspiracies are hoaxes, I just think the crappy, ill-thought-out ones need to be debunked. Keeping a healthy scepticism is a good thing, it doesn’t make me a naysayer.

So, enter the Mars “walker.” He seems like a happy guy going about his business, walking across the Mars surface, leaving little ET-like footprints in the Mars soil (and now it really can be called a “soil”). You may have noticed I’ve assumed it has a gender, so I’ll give him a name too. Lets call him Percy. It would appear that Percy has been a little careless and been caught out in the open on a drunken stumble down a hill by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). As the satellite swung overhead, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) caught Percy in the act (see the picture, top). This image (plus annotations) can be found on AboveTopSecret.com, a site I stumbled across when trying to gather the scientific inaccuracies behind the Mayan calendar and Planet X science. Unfortunately, I really “want to believe” but this new Martian picture fails on every level.

First off, we’ve jumped to the conclusion that Percy is an alien on a walk. Naturally, to be an alien, he needs a big head… and two feet. What’s more there is a long shadow indicating he is a tall Martian (although I can’t help but be confused by the direction of the light bouncing off Percy’s head – I suspect some post-processing…). Very quickly, it will become apparent that the annotations have discarded the “rolling rock” explanation as the path is too meandering, and the imprints resemble footprints, not rock-prints. Well, that isn’t entirely accurate. Take a look at the following detailed HiRISE image:

Left: A crater filled with rocks rolling in different directions, crossing paths. Right: A rock rolling fast down crater side, jumping out of a small crater and then settling (leaving "footprints"). Credit: NASA/HiRISE/JPL
A crater filled with rocks rolling in different directions, crossing paths (left). A rock rolling fast down crater side, jumping out of a small crater and then settling (leaving footprints, right). (NASA/HiRISE/JPL)

On the left, there are many rock-trails rolling down the crater side. The tracks overlap each other. They aren’t uniform. The image on the right shows the detail of one such rock using a mini-crater as a ski jump.

Alas, with many conspiracy images, there is no reference to where they found the picture (I had to assume it was from HiRISE) and very little explanation. I’d love to see the original to see if this one had been doctored in any way, but I suspect the meandering pattern of the prints are a natural by-product of the rolling rock bouncing around off an undulating slope.

So no, this isn’t an alien on a stroll, it is a rock bouncing down a slope. What’s more, if you have a look at the first image again, you’ll notice more rock tracks (on the far right), only from a faster moving piece of rolling debris (unless there were a few Percy’s running around, but I doubt it).

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4 thoughts on “Rolling Rock or Walking Martian?”

  1. Looks a bit like a dust devil to me… But, what do I know. Plenty of explanation other than something walking about. Now, if it were to suddenly veer in a completely adjacent directino or start going back up the hill, one might be able to better argue for something not just following a “path of least resistance” (I’d still be more inclined to go with “dust devil” than mythical beast, though).

    Could a dust devil make those intermittent pits, though? A good question. Unclear. However! There is evidence, and plenty of it, that dust devils have an inherently electrical nature (google “mars electric dust devils”) and you’ll probably come up with a few NASA releases and other stuff. Granted they still utilize ye olde “triboelectrics” to attempt to “explain” the electric fields present in the dust devils.

    If, the dust devils were actually part of a current exchange (see Bernard Vonnegut’s work on vortex stabilization of a high voltage discharge; available from adbsabs.harvard.edu), might it not be possible that a dust devil could actually machine the surface sediments electrically?

    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1960JAtS…17..468V

    I’d point to several videos showing electrodynamic cratering made by a colleague in a garage science / hobby lab.

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=WB_EKVWgbj8
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=3rqQnUCiWQo
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=7dbs5QAMOqc

    Likewise the research done by Rutgers with respect to charged sand grains, etc. Strangely enough they tended to form craters in the sand flow.

    http://sol.rutgers.edu/~lamarc/Razorbacks/

    So, there’s a few ways to make a crater chain. Granted, a rock rolling down a hill is probably another. πŸ™‚ Also likely the best option in this scenario. But, I think there are other interesting processes going on @ Mars that aren’t quite so easily explained…

    Regards,
    ~Michael

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