As far as landscapes go, Mars is pretty dull – it’s mostly just rocks and craters. But now the Perseverance rover has spotted a couple of particularly weird rocks that have been hollowed out in eerie shapes.
On April 15, a strangely donut-shaped rock caught the mechanical eye of Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z instrument, from a distance of about 400 m (1,312 ft). Over the next few months the rover drove closer, eventually snapping a more focused photo from just 100 m (328 ft) away on June 22.
NASA scientists say it was probably formed after a smaller rock that used to exist at the center eroded away, after eons of being sandblasted by the wind. That could have left behind a cavity which only grew bigger over time, thanks again to the wind.
A few days later on June 26, Perseverance snapped another photo of a nearby weird rock. This one kind of resembles a piece of Swiss cheese, with large holes leading to a hollowed-out center.
When you look at a lot of Mars rocks, it’s natural for some of them to start looking like other things. That’s why people claim to have spotted humanoid figures, doorways or dragon bones on the horizon, or even puzzle over rocks that seem to appear and disappear. But just like clouds are always clouds and not the faces or animals they might look like, so these rocks are just… rocks.
But even so, they can reveal new insights into these alien landscapes. Or at the very least, they’re just cool landmarks to look at.