2462: NASA Award

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NASA Award
The key to discovering life on Mars is to find someone who built a camera and landed it on Mars. Then you just look through the pictures for plants and dogs and stuff.
Title text: The key to discovering life on Mars is to find someone who built a camera and landed it on Mars. Then you just look through the pictures for plants and dogs and stuff.


In this comic Hairy is awarded a "Nobel Prize" by NASA, represented by Ponytail handing him the award, as well as Cueball and Megan. He receives this award because he has found "life on Mars" by looking at NASA's images from their Mars missions. Hairy looks at his prize, and remarks that it is just a rock, albeit it is on a string, like those Olympic Gold Medals are on. To this Ponytail replies that from a certain angle... implying that if he looks hard enough the rock might look like a Nobel Prize. Just like Hairy, by looking at the pictures in the right way, found something that looked like life on Mars.

This comic jabs at poorly-supported claims of discovering alien life, particularly when instances of pareidolia are used as "evidence" of such life. Pareidolia is the tendency for perception to spuriously impose a meaningful interpretation on a nebulous visual stimulus, for example a rock that is interpreted as a face. A famous example is the Face on Mars, a 2km long hill that can be said to resemble the face of a human when viewed on low resolution images, at a specific angle and lighting conditions. At the time some people claimed this was proof of an ancient Martian civilization. Later higher resolution images showed that the face was an optical illusion. Rocks make for poor prizes as they make for poor evidence [citation needed], and looking from different angles is of no use for either.

If you're actively looking for patterns in large amounts of data (especially if it's any pattern, largely undefined until it is 'found') then you are likely to dismiss all the data that does not support your preconceived ideas and seize upon the small randomnesses that you have managed to trawl though and classify as 'interesting'. This is an example of Confirmation Bias. It's possible that the featured NASA personnel specifically sifted rocks looking for one that looked like an award.

The title text explains how you find life on Mars. Just access other people's images that have been taken on Mars, and look for plants and animals. This is lampooning the simplistic notion that life on Mars would be detected by looking at photos at all. In reality, all extraterrestrial life (in this solar system at least) is almost certainly microscopic. The notion of detecting it by studying photos of the Martian surface is just as absurd as the idea of looking at the photos and expecting to see dogs and trees and other familiar macroscopic lifeforms.

Building a camera and landing it on Mars is what NASA does with their Mars rovers and other Mars missions. The camera is a small part of the entire mission, though an important part. But this is why the title text talks about landing the camera on Mars. The space probes are the cameras.


[Cueball, Ponytail, Hairy, and Megan stand on a two tiered platform. Ponytail and Hairy are are on the top step, with Cueball and Megan standing on the lower step looking up at the other two. Ponytail holds a necklace with a rock attached to the end up in both hands offering it to Hairy.]
Ponytail: We're honored to present you with this Nobel Prize!
Hairy: That's just a rock.
Ponytail: Yeah, but from a certain angle...
[Caption beneath the panel]:
NASA has a new award for people on the internet who claim to find life in their Mars photos.

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Possibly a reference to this? (I'm sure there are other examples, though.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cydonia_(Mars) 04:25, 13 May 2021 (UTC)

More likely it's this recent nonsense: https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/moon-mars/a36356445/mushrooms-on-mars-nasa-photos-life-on-mars/ 05:42, 13 May 2021 (UTC)
I agree. I saw this headline as a feed from Yahoo and thought, "Mushrooms on Mars? That can't possibly be true." Then I read the article and thought, "OMG, it could be true." Then I read an article debunking it and thought, "So sad, it's not true after all." Rtanenbaum (talk) 01:40, 14 May 2021 (UTC)

Ironically, while many of us are still holding out for visible space fauna, practically every test we've constructed to check for the biochemical signs of life has returned positive results. Even as far back as the Viking landers, we've been sending out probes & conducting tests, designed to detect trace compositions only known to form via biological processes, & over & over we find those traces right where one would expect. From otherwise inexplicably high methane production, to complex sugars forming around a distant star, it often appears that the universe may be teeming with life, & we simply haven't collected it somewhere so observable as a petri dish, yet. As near as I can tell, the only reason we haven't declared "extraterrestrial life confirmed" is because we keep raising the bar for proving it. At this rate, I feel like we could discover martian sunflowers & honeybees, & somehow there would still be some question of "Yeah, but are they really truly technically & inarguably alive, exactly? What is life, anyway?" ... So far, I'm not aware of many chemical tests performed to check for signs of life in space which didn't detect signs of life? ProphetZarquon (talk) 08:12, 13 May 2021 (UTC)

The ultimate test for life is if it tries to prove that you are alive. -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:16, 13 May 2021 (UTC)

Ponytail gives a rock as a prize, but tells Hairy that from an angle it can look like a Nobel. She is using the same semantics when people look at Mars photos and recognize structures or figures in oddly shape rocks. 09:30, 13 May 2021 (UTC)

I'm surprised there's no wikilink to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia yet, in the explanation (or straight to the #Mimetoliths section, even, though that's a slightly different aspect of the same coin as the comic intends). But the rewrite I'd want to do to the Explanation is far more extensive (shuffling, mostly, with only minor editorialising and 'correction') than the time I have right now, if I want to do it well, so I'll leave this until later or let someone else grasp the nettle and perhaps add Pareidolia/similar references themselves? (Honestly, I keep getting YouTube 'recommendations' of stuff like "We've found a pipe* on Mars!" (*i.e. the tobacco kind) which is basically just someone doing the equivalent of saying that a particular cloud in the (Earthly) sky looks like an elephant. Sorta-maybe-for-a-few-seconds-before-it-doesn't-again.) 12:39, 13 May 2021 (UTC)

When I was a kid I thought Mount Rushmore was a natural formation. Actually, I'm ashamed to admit how old I was when I realized it _wasn't_ one. Now I know that I can blame "Pareidolia." Gbisaga (talk) 13:27, 13 May 2021 (UTC)

That actually sounds like the OPPOSITE of pareidolia, whatever one would call such a thing. (The interwebs suggest it might be a form of prosopagnosia, or "face blindness", whereby you would fail to see the obvious familiar face(s) as something familiar...)Mathmannix (talk) 16:12, 13 May 2021 (UTC)
No, face blindness would be something completely different. What happened is that Gbisaga was aware of pareidolia (despite not knowing the word for it) and based on that knowledge was suspicious even to cases which were not result of pareidolia. -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:16, 13 May 2021 (UTC)

Someone should update the description to include the recent "discovery" of mushrooms on mars.

I thought the point of the title text is that someone sends their personal digital camera to Mars. When you look through its album, it will still have the pictures that they took on Earth. But you ignore the timing and claim that this shows life on Mars. Barmar (talk) 00:35, 14 May 2021 (UTC)

No no, NASA builds cameras and land them on Mars, we call these cameras space probes or Mars rowers. It is for sure not pictures taken from the Earth on that camera that is referred to. I have updated the explanation to mention this clearly. --Kynde (talk) 11:35, 14 May 2021 (UTC)
"Mars rowers"? Proof that there is water on Mars! ;)
(I, of course, never make tyops. Butt syill cuoldn't resit maknig thus litlle jike. Soory.) 21:03, 14 May 2021 (UTC)

This seems to be related to Fungi on Mars? Evidence of Growth and Behavior From Sequential Images 15:14, 14 May 2021 (UTC)