An image taken by NASA’s Martian land-rover Curiosity appears to show a rat, some say a squirrel, wedged between two rocks. It has shiny black eyes and clearly distinct eyebrows. The wild world of the Internet has been having a fun time with this one, even giving the Martian Rat its own Facebook page and Twitter handle.
It’s actually a rock – which happens to kind of look like a rat in the photograph. Sort of how you see images in clouds sometimes. The late Carl Sagan, noted astro-physicist, wrote about the human phenomenon in his book "Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark."
“Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper.”
Dr. Patricia Reiff, from Rice University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, tells KTRH, “The scientific explanation is right in our brains. We are designed to notice patterns. That’s how an observation with scientists like me works. I see a pattern, I say, ‘That’s an interesting pattern, let’s see if it makes any sense. Is it reproducible? Can you use it to make predictions? That’s the scientific method.”
As with Carl Sagan, Reiff sees this ability as a human survival mechanism.
“It’s not surprising that when we see a rock that has a very interesting shape our brain says, ‘Oh, that looks like a rat.’ Just like some clouds can look like sheep.”
There is, in fact, a RAT on Mars. It’s the Rock Abrasion Tool, an instrument capable of drilling deep holes into the surface of the distant planet, and is attached to the Curiosity rover.