Not Real News

This image made available by NASA was taken by the Mast Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3466, May 7. On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming NASA’s Mars rover has captured images of a doorway cut into a mountainside of the red planet, suggesting the presence of extraterrestrial life. 

CLAIM: NASA’s Mars rover has captured images of a doorway cut into a mountainside of the red planet, suggesting the presence of extraterrestrial life.

THE FACTS: Social media users shared a magnified version of the image, which made it appear the formation was much larger than its actual dimensions. NASA officials and Mars experts say the curious formation is nothing more than a narrow, naturally-occurring crevice in the rocky, barren terrain. Andrew Good, a spokesman for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told the AP that the image being circulated is a “very, very, very zoomed in shot” of a naturally formed rock crevice.

On Wednesday, NASA posted on its website more detailed renderings of the area, which it says is a mound of rock nicknamed “East Cliffs” on Mars’ Mount Sharp.

Curiosity, a rover that’s been exploring the mountain since landing in 2012, took the image of the crevice on May 7. Good said that NASA scientists overseeing the rover estimate the opening is 12 inches (30 centimeters) tall and 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide.

“You can see all kinds of cracks and fractures in the surrounding area,” Good wrote in an email. “There are linear fractures throughout this outcrop, and this is a location where several linear fractures happen to intersect.”

Gaia Stucky de Quay, a researcher at Harvard’s earth and planetary sciences department who studies Mars’ surface, said images suggest this particular spot started developing linear cracks until a large wedge of rock eventually broke off, perhaps due to wind erosion, dust storms or “marsquakes.”

“The shadows make it look like a perfect rectangle in low quality images, which has been used to suggest it is a ’doorway,” Stucky de Quay wrote in an email. “But cracks generally form in straight lines, and you can actually see very clearly into the inside of the rock wall, and see the back of the wall, with even more cracks in it.”

The assessment from NASA and other Mars experts hasn’t deterred some online skeptics from questioning the timing of the image release. It came just days before Congress opened its first hearing in more than half a century on unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, on Tuesday. Rather than extraterrestrials, lawmakers at the hearing honed in on concerns that China, Russia and other well-equipped foreign adversaries could be using new aerospace technology against the U.S. and its allies without their knowledge.

— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in Boston contributed this report.