An image sent back from the Red Planet has revealed an object bearing an uncanny resemblance to a wooden log. It was captured by the Mars Rover near the Endurance Crater.
The find has excited conspiracy theorists on blogs and websites who claim it is evidence there are vast forests on Mars that have been kept from the public.
It is more likely to be a case of pareidolia - where a random stimulus is perceived as having significance, be it a symbol seen in a cloud or a face on a piece of toast.
Scientists theorize the phenomenon occurs because humans are hardwired to recognise familiar objects as a survival technique.
The unusual image was featured in a NASA press release in 2004, although the space agency made no mention of the timber-like object captured on the spacecraft’s 115th day on Mars.
But one website insists it is a leaked image that ‘could get someone killed.’ A writer from TheCrit.com said NASA’s claims Mars was a desert world were ‘lies’ and that ‘there are vast forests on Mars, ones that are kept from the public.’
They go on to speculate the ‘wood’ was brought to its present position by a flood of water that must have happened within 40 years ‘because the wood is intact.’
However, the ‘plank’ has the same shading and a similar linear pattern to the surrounding rock.
Sadly, there is no scientific evidence of any macroscopic plant life on Mars and the vista in the image is one of a vast and desolate desert.
However, NASA scientists have found water ice in the north polar region of Mars as well as alkaline soil - key ingredients to support life.
In these images there is a polygonal pattern on the ground similar in appearance to polygonal structures in icy ground in the arctic regions of Earth.
‘We have found what appears to be the requirements, the nutrients, to support life - whether past, present or future,’ Sam Kounaves, lead analyst for the Phoenix spacecraft’s mission said.
President Bush announced his intention to support a manned mission to Mars back in 2004. A ready supply of water would be essential to the project.