Mars: a bear-shaped crater discovered on the red planet!


Mars: a bear-shaped crater discovered on the red planet!

MARCH. NASA has released a curious photo of the surface of Mars. On the picture, we can see the head of a bear drawn on the ground of the red planet. This stunning image was captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter last month.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured a stunning snapshot last December as it circled the planet Mars. Its on-board camera, named HiRISE, which provides high-definition images, transmitted a photograph that was surprising to say the least, on which a bear's head can be clearly seen on the Martian soil.

The image, which was shared on January 25 on Twitter by the American space agency, has been deciphered by the University of Arizona, which offers a geological explanation for this curious vision. The scientists explain that it is a hill with a V-shaped collapsed part that gives the illusion of a snout and that two craters located above form the eyes of the bear cub. All of these could be located on an impact crater covered in lava or mud, which would explain the circular shape of the bear's head.

This is not the first photo of the planet Mars that plays tricks on us. Already in 1976, the Viking 1 probe had photographed a face that quickly became cult. Since then, a lizard and a crab photographed by Curiosity, or even a mysterious door have been spotted in the photos of the red planet. Of course, these are just optical illusions. This phenomenon, called pareidolia, is well known to scientists. Although we know for a fact that no one has come to create a bear sculpture on the surface of Mars or cut a door in a cliff on the red planet, the human brain cannot help but try to create meaning in what we see. When he finds himself faced with an abstract image, he seeks to recognize already known shapes. This is how we find familiar shapes even in space.

Launched on August 12, 2005, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a space probe designed to map the surface of the planet Mars. Arriving in March 2006 at her destination, she then placed herself in low orbit and used her HiRISE telescope to photograph the ground of the red planet in high definition. The main objective of this mission was to acquire new knowledge on the Martian soil for future landers. Its initial mission was scheduled for a period of two years but it has been renewed several times since 2008. We owe it some of the most spectacular images of the red planet, such as this crater filled with clearly cut dunes photographed in 2021.

The first rover to have rolled on the ground of the planet Mars is called Sojourner. It was sent in 1997 by NASA which had learned about the environmental conditions of the Red Planet from numerous stationary probes in previous decades. Thus, the Pathfinder probe lands on June 4, 1997 and releases the Sojourner rover. The latter weighs just over 10 kilograms and is no larger than a microwave. It will travel only 100 meters, but this technical feat will mark the beginning of the era of rovers on the planet Mars. Since that date, no less than 5 different rovers have landed on Mars, bringing us a lot of information about the neighbor of Earth:

On May 14, 2021, the first non-American Mars rover touched down on the Red Planet. Sent by China, Zhurong is a 240 kilogram machine, powered by solar panels. Its mission is to study an area that once housed a sea. The rover could thus discover traces of a past life. According to James Head III, a planetary scientist at Brown University, this research could complement that of the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers which have studied similar areas at the level of ancient lakes, reports National Geographic magazine.

Leaving in 2020 heading for Mars, Perseverance arrived on February 18, 2021 in the Jezero impact crater. The objective of Perseverance is to determine if there is currently, or if there has been in the past, a form of life present on the red planet. It is for this reason that NASA sent it to the level of an ancient lake that would have existed in the crater. He will therefore try to unravel the mystery of life on Mars. For this, Perseverance must also collect rocks intended to be brought back to Earth in the coming decades.

Perseverance filmed its spectacular landing using onboard cameras, resulting in a video of several minutes on which we can see the descent of the rover as well as the Martian landscape:

When NASA sent the Curiosity rover to the surface of Mars for the Mars Science Laboratory mission in 2012, the robot amazed with its skills. A veritable mobile laboratory, it is capable of extracting soil samples and analyzing them inside the rover itself. Its landing site was chosen for its strategic position near different locations that could have seen life appear at a time when liquid water was flowing on Mars.

This is the 4th rover to visit the planet Mars. Launched in November 2011, it arrived on site in August 2012. Curiosity is still active in May 2022 and had traveled more than 24 kilometers by 2021. In April 2022, the rover celebrated 10 years on Mars and continues to visit Mars. red planet. NASA regularly releases information on its progress and images of the Martian landscape:

On May 7, 2022, Curiosity photographed with its Mastcam a strange door located in the center of a geological feature called the Greenheugh Pediment. The astonishing structure stimulated everyone's imagination. Entrance to an underground bunker? Of a pyramid? Door leading to an alien habitat populated by aliens?

Nothing of the sort ! "Sorry, NASA has not found a secret door on Mars", writes then the specialized American site CNet. "It's not a real door, but a break in the sediments of the very varied area," confirms journalist Eric Bottlaender on Twitter. The Sky Diary

This is not the first time that a photo taken by this rover on the red planet feeds the imagination. An image of a ventifact taken by Curiosity in 2015 had been seen as a flying spoon on the planet Mars, a lizard or even a sandal...

The year 2003 was marked by a double exploration mission to Mars. With the Mars Exploration Rover mission, NASA is sending two "twin" rovers named Spirit and Opportunity. They are identical and land a few weeks apart in January 2003. Equipped with solar panels, spectrometers to analyze the rocks and a camera perched on a mast, the whole thing weighs 185 kilograms. While Spirit traveled 7.73 kilometers before getting stuck in a dune in 2009 and losing contact with Earth the following year, its twin Opportunity had a more spectacular fate.

Indeed, Opportunity remains at present the rover with the longest life since it definitively lost contact with the Earth in June 2018 after 14 years of loyal service and 45 kilometers traveled to its credit. He was unfortunately caught in a dust storm as he was about to descend into an old dry riverbed. The storm lasted 3 months during which the rover found itself in the dark without being able to recharge its batteries using its solar panels. Since then, contact with him has never been restored. In February 2019, NASA declared the mission officially over, even posting a tweet in tribute to the rover, affectionately nicknamed "Oppy":

The objectives of NASA on Mars evolve over the missions according to the discoveries and scientific advances brought by the successive explorations of the planet. Thus, originally the probes sent to Mars were used to define the type of soil, the conditions of reception of the planet with the aim of subsequently sending rovers there. The latter have been studying the characteristics of rocks and soil since 2003 and are gradually mapping the planet, thus identifying areas where life could potentially have appeared in the past. These spaces correspond to ancient rivers, deltas and lakes that flowed several billion years ago.

NASA regularly publishes snapshots of the Martian landscape taken by the various rovers evolving on site, such as this photo from Perseverance showing the robot's tracks on the ground of an ancient dry lake:

The end goal of the mission is to collect rock samples to bring back to Earth. "When the samples are ready, we will put them on the side of the road, and two missions will come from Earth to look for them", confides Sylvestre Maurice at the microphone of France Inter. He also insists on the difficulty of this company which should not see the light of day before 2031: "It's a very complex mission: sample returns, that's what we call the Holy Grail".

Recently, the helicopter that accompanies Perseverance transmitted the photo below which went around the world. We can see the debris of the heat shield that allowed the rover to resist its descent through the atmosphere of Mars. This is a world first because we had never obtained such an accurate aerial photo of the rubble during previous missions. NASA hopes to use these images to better understand the resistance of the material and prepare for the next missions: