In the 19th century, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli thought he spotted canals on Mars through his telescope. Since then, we’ve seen lots of things on the Red Planet that aren’t really there. From spoons and squirrels to campfires and women wearing dresses, we present to you the most notorious false sightings on Mars.
We so very, very badly want to find life on Mars, making the planet a gigantic Rorschach test onto which we can project our hopes and dreams. It doesn’t help that these images, taken by satellites and rovers, are often grainy, ambiguous, and lacking a sense of scale. As our wishful eyes gaze upon this alien landscape, our minds play tricks, causing us to substitute the known for the unknown.
We’ve assembled a slideshow of our favorite Martian optical illusions. Desktop users, navigate using “next” and “previous” at the bottom of the page.