It has been described as one of the ‘most bizarre’ objects ever discovered on the Martian surface.

So could extraterrestrials be to blame for this ‘bone-like’ rock with peculiar pointy protrusions?

Well, far-fetched though it may seem, scientists say they cannot rule out the possibility that an alien spacecraft crash-landing on the Red Planet was responsible.

Researchers of a new study added that such a scenario ‘cannot be discounted with absolute certainty’, particularly as ‘fragments including what appears to be wheels, an axle and a cratered debris field have been photographed in another Gale Crater location’. 

However, they think the formations are most likely to be related to seismic activity on Mars. 

Peculiar: Scientists say they cannot rule out the possibility that an alien spacecraft crash-landing on the Red Planet was responsible for creating these strange spikes in the rock above

Peculiar: Scientists say they cannot rule out the possibility that an alien spacecraft crash-landing on the Red Planet was responsible for creating these strange spikes in the rock above

Peculiar: Scientists say they cannot rule out the possibility that an alien spacecraft crash-landing on the Red Planet was responsible for creating these strange spikes in the rock above

Excitement: A NASA expert said the rock was the 'most bizarre' she had ever seen in 20 years

Excitement: A NASA expert said the rock was the 'most bizarre' she had ever seen in 20 years

Excitement: A NASA expert said the rock was the ‘most bizarre’ she had ever seen in 20 years

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT GALE CRATER?

  • Gale Crater is a dry lake bed on Mars which spans 96 miles in diameter
  • It is estimated to be between 3.5 and 3.8 billion years old
  • NASA sent its Curiosity rover to explore the crater in November 2011 because of evidence of water being present in the distant past
  • Organic molecules preserved in 3.5 billion-year-old bedrock were discovered in the crater in 2018, supporting that conditions on the Red Planet might once have supported life
  • In January 2020, minerals made of carbon and oxygen were found in rocks, which experts said may have formed in an ice-covered lake during a cold period on the planet
  • Antidunes reaching the height of 33 feet (10 m) were found to be the result of megafloods in November 2020
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The experts said the protrusions look like what are known as ‘sand spikes’ on Earth, which appear on our planet during earthquakes of magnitude seven and greater.  

Professor Richard Armstrong, of Aston University, Birmingham, who is first author of the paper, told MailOnline: ‘These structures are very unusual on Mars and unique in my experience. 

‘There is no certainty what causes the spikes and related structures but the balance of evidence suggests a type of “sand spike” which form on Earth as a consequence of significant seismic activity.

‘However, there are some differences between the Martian spikes and those from Earth which has been pointed out by some geologists.’

For example, the ones on Mars do not have the same bulbous ends as those on Earth.

They are also sometimes serrated, while terrestrial ‘sand spikes’ are not.

On the possibility of an alien spaceship being to blame instead, Professor Armstrong added: ‘The spikes are unlikely to be space debris but nothing can be ruled out.’

He said the so-called ‘wheels’ were likely to be a separate phenomenon.  

Nevertheless, there has been feverish speculation about what the rock could be ever since the US space agency’s Curiosity rover photographed it at the base of the 96 mile-long (154 km) Gale Crater in April.

At the time, NASA astrobiologist Dr Nathalie Cabrol said it was ‘the most bizarre rock’ she had ever seen in 20 years of studying the Red Planet. 

She hypothesised that Martian winds may be to blame, with the feature likely to be the ‘remains of ripples after lots of erosion’. 

Fossilised fish bones, dinosaur remains, or bits of an old Earth-made spacecraft have also previously been mentioned as a possible cause for the spiky features.

Odd: NASA's Curiosity rover captured the images of the rock, which have since been analysed

Odd: NASA's Curiosity rover captured the images of the rock, which have since been analysed

Odd: NASA’s Curiosity rover captured the images of the rock, which have since been analysed

Theories: There has been feverish speculation about what the rock could be since it was photographed at the base of the 96 mile-long (154 km) Gale Crater in April

Theories: There has been feverish speculation about what the rock could be since it was photographed at the base of the 96 mile-long (154 km) Gale Crater in April

Theories: There has been feverish speculation about what the rock could be since it was photographed at the base of the 96 mile-long (154 km) Gale Crater in April

Claim: Scientists think the formations are most likely to be related to seismic activity on Mars

Claim: Scientists think the formations are most likely to be related to seismic activity on Mars

Claim: Scientists think the formations are most likely to be related to seismic activity on Mars 

In total, at least 10 probes including Britain’s Beagle 2 and the Mars Polar Lander have crashed on Mars, while experts estimate there are now 15,694lbs (7,119kg) of human debris on the surface from discarded parachutes and head shields of successful missions.

Despite this, the researchers said the peculiar rock is unlikely to be caused by humans.

‘Given that possibly 10 or more craft have crashed upon the surface, coupled with the jettison of equipment associated with landing the rovers, it is possible the spikes and its substrate are human-made and consist of debris that fell onto the surface of Gale Crater,’ the authors wrote in their paper.

‘Nevertheless, no debris field is evident and no evidence of any additional debris that may have originated on Earth.

‘Given its small size and that there are no known human-made analogs and no logical explanation as to what purpose these spikes may serve, it does not seem likely these specimens are the remnants of craft or equipment that fell into Gale Crater.

‘One can only speculate about extraterrestrial origins.’ 

Part of the reason for this is that similar rock formations have been found at the Nordlinger Reis asteroid impact crater in southern Germany.  

Search: NASA's Curiosity rover (pictured) has been roaming the Gale Crater since August 2012

Search: NASA's Curiosity rover (pictured) has been roaming the Gale Crater since August 2012

Search: NASA’s Curiosity rover (pictured) has been roaming the Gale Crater since August 2012

Curiosity is no stranger to photographing peculiar Mars features which have left scientists scratching their heads. 

Last June, the rover discovered some strange, twisting structures poking out of the surface of the Red Planet, which are now thought to be naturally-occurring ‘hoodoos’.

Experts said the columns were probably created from cement-like substances that once filled ancient cracks of Martian bedrock.

But, over time, the softer rock eroded away, leaving only the twisting towers of compact material protruding from the sand in the crater.

In February 2022, the rover captured an image of what appeared to be a coral-like ‘flower’ in the Gale Crater, but was actually a microscopic mineral formation.

NASA scientists confirmed it was a ‘diagenetic crystal cluster’, smaller than a penny, which may have been formed by minerals precipitating from water.

Studies of earlier versions have revealed that the minerals, sprouting out in different directions, were likely embedded inside a rock that eroded away over time.

However, it looks like these minerals were resistant to erosion, so remain on the dusty surface of the Red Planet.

Last August marked Curiosity’s 10th anniversary on Mars. It was joined by NASA’s Perseverance rover in February 2021. 

The new study has been published in the Journal of Astrobiology.

THE NASA MARS CURIOSITY ROVER LAUNCHED IN 2011 AND HAS IMPROVED OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE RED PLANET

The Mars Curiosity rover was initially launched from Cape Canaveral, an American Air Force station in Florida on November 26, 2011. 

After embarking on a 350 million mile (560 million km) journey, the £1.8 billion ($2.5 billion) research vehicle touched down only 1.5 miles (2.4 km) away from the earmarked landing spot.

After a successful landing on August 5th, 2012, the rover has travelled about 11 miles (18 km). 

It launched on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft and the rover constituted 23 per cent of the mass of the total mission. 

With 80 kg (180 lb) of scientific instruments on board, the rover weighs a total of 899 kg (1,982 lb) and is powered by a plutonium fuel source. 

The rover is 2.9 metres (9.5 ft) long by 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) wide by 2.2 metres (7.2 ft) in height. 

The Mars curiosity rover was initially intended to be a two-year mission to gather information to help answer if the planet could support life, has liquid water, study the climate and the geology of Mars an has since been active for more than 3,700 sols

The Mars curiosity rover was initially intended to be a two-year mission to gather information to help answer if the planet could support life, has liquid water, study the climate and the geology of Mars an has since been active for more than 3,700 sols

The Mars curiosity rover was initially intended to be a two-year mission to gather information to help answer if the planet could support life, has liquid water, study the climate and the geology of Mars an has since been active for more than 3,700 sols

The rover was initially intended to be a two-year mission to gather information to help answer if the planet could support life, has liquid water, study the climate and the geology of Mars.  

Due to its success, the mission has been extended indefinitely and has now been active for over 3,700 sols.

The rover has several scientific instruments on board, including the mastcam which consists of two cameras and can take high-resolution images and videos in real colour. 

So far on the journey of the car-sized robot it has encountered an ancient streambed where liquid water used to flow, not long after it also discovered that billions of years ago, a nearby area known as Yellowknife Bay was part of a lake that could have supported microbial life.

This post first appeared on Dailymail.co.uk

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