For the past couple of weeks, space enthusiasts have been “seeing” different creatures on the surface of planet Mars.

People saw birds, monkeys, penguins and even pigs on NASA photos taken by its Curiosity rover. Now an old photo of Curiosity back in 2012 has resurfaced, claiming that it depicts the picture of what looks like a rodent-like creature.

This “rat” that was captured among the “Rocknest” site on the Red Planet has been subjected to many debates and conspiracy theories. Scott Warring, who runs the YouTube channel ET Database, once described the image as “it’s a cute rodent on Mars. Note its lighter-color upper and lower eyelids, its nose and cheek areas, its ear, its front leg and stomach.”

Warring, however, is not exactly an expert on figures found on Mars and the UFO-logist actually believes that some structures on the Red Planet are artifacts left behind by an “ancient civilization” that once thrived on the planet. Warring’s website, UFO Sightings Daily, also closed down.

This, however, didn’t stop people from finding odd things in various Mars photos. For example, Mashable recently reported that a mysterious flying bird can actually be spotted flying across the region of Mars. The image sparked some radical theories about the space mission, with some believing that the image only proved that the Mars photos were taken here on Earth instead of the Red Planet.

But what could be the reason for this aside from people’s enthusiasm for finding life outside our planet? In a report, it was reasoned that space aficionados who spend a lot of time pouring over photographs taken on the Martian surface are identified as pareidolia or the tendency of the human brain to catch meaningful patterns in various images. This group is not as crazy as what some would most likely presume, but has an actual scientific basis.

“Pareidolia is a normal neuro perceptual phenomenon. It happens in auditory and tactile domains as well … [pareidolia] helps us to be super alert to things … and thus is evolutionarily advantageous,” Dr. Kang Lee, a neuroscientist from the University of Toronto, said.

Pareidolia, however, could prove there’s really no rat, pig or penguin in Planet Mars. But being able to discern irregularities or odd shapes of things that shouldn’t be on the Red Planet could eventually help scientists figure out if something is worth investigating on the alien planet.

Mars rock formation
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on July 10, 2019, Sol 2462 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, at 17:00:31 UTC.When this image was obtained, the focus motor count position was 13531. This number indicates the internal position of the MAHLI lens at the time the image was acquired. This count also tells whether the dust cover was open or closed. Values between 0 and 6000 mean the dust cover was closed; values between 12500 and 16000 occur when the cover is open. For close-up images, the motor count can in some cases be used to estimate the distance between the MAHLI lens and target. For example, in-focus images obtained with the dust cover open for which the lens was 2.5 cm from the target have a motor count near 15270. If the lens is 5 cm from the target, the motor count is near 14360; if 7 cm, 13980; 10 cm, 13635; 15 cm, 13325; 20 cm, 13155; 25 cm, 13050; 30 cm, 12970. These correspond to image scales, in micrometers per pixel, of about 16, 25, 32, 42, 60, 77, 95, and 113.Most images acquired by MAHLI in daylight use the sun as an illumination source. However, in some cases, MAHLI's two groups of white light LEDs and one group of longwave ultraviolet (UV) LEDs might be used to illuminate targets. When Curiosity acquired this image, the group 1 white light LEDs were off, the group 2 white light LEDs were off, and the ultraviolet (UV) LEDS were off. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS