One of the favorite activities of alleged UFO hunters and paranormal “investigators” is to trawl through images recorded by NASA from various places in the universe. In particular, there is somewhat of an obsession with images from the Moon and Mars. This is probably because they are some of our closest neighbors in space, but also because the Moon landing and the Mars Curiosity Rover mission has such large impact on the public perception of space exploration. Of course, these missions are also surrounded by pseudoscientific conspiracy theories, making them very attractive for UFO hunters and other cranks to hover around.
This, combined with the fact that the NASA multimedia library contains over 140 000 image, video and audio entries, creates a perfect storm for abuse. Because there is so much content available, one can easily find things that superficially look weird, out-of-place or even similar to common objects on Earth just by sheer coincidence. Other times, it requires a lot of squinting, zooming, image manipulation and other cognitive trickery to force the supernatural interpretation onto the images.
Previously, Debunking Denialism covered a case where UFO hunter Scott C. Waring claimed that he had found a rodent on Mars. Turns out that he had searched through the NASA image library and found an image of a Mars rock that kind of looked like a rodent if you zoomed in an squinted a bit. In reality, it was a clear case of unchecked pareidolia and confirmation bias. In other words, Waring had an overactive pattern detection and only looked at reasons for why the Mars rock might look like a squirrel while ignoring reasons for why it is really just a rock.
Ancient Tree Stump on Mars?
In a YouTube video called “Possible Tree Stump Found On Mars?” posted by Paranormal Crucible (135k subscribers) on April 20, 2017, the video creator had taken an image from the Mars Curiosity Rover archives taken on Sol 1647 (25 March, 2017) at 07:19:49 UTC. The full resolution can be found here.
This has many similarities with previous cases that have been debunked by skeptics. It is a single image taken from a large library which inflates probabilistic resources available, it is grainy, the video involves zooming in, squinting, a lot of shoehorning and even image manipulation to make the facts fit the idea being proposed about ancient tree stumps on Mars.
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