By Phil Plait | January 8, 2009 11:37 am

OK, sure, I make fun of biology sometimes. I blame PZ; he’s such an easy target! But then, sometimes, I wonder. Take a look at this:

Dunes on Mars, or tentacles of a jellyfish?

Is this an orbital view of dune fields on Mars, or a close-up of tentacles on a jellyfish?

OK, they’re dune fields. But don’t they look biological? The grooves are gullies running down from the crests of the dunes, but from the altitude and resolution of the camera HiRISE on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter they look like organic growths seen through a microscope.

But since they’re on Mars, they’re way cooler.

You can keep up with new images from Mars on the HiRISE website. You can also follow HiRISE on Twitter!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (21)

Links to this Post

  1. Wag of the Tail « Barkings Of An Old Dog | January 9, 2009
  1. Quiet Desperation

    Is this an orbital view of dune fields on Mars, or a close-up of tentacles on a jellyfish?

    Ah! Trick question! It’s a giant jellyfish…. on MARS!

  2. Rob

    Is this a false color photo or does it have some enhancements? What are all the ‘green’ areas??

  3. Timothy from Boulder

    “Is this a false color photo or does it have some enhancements? What are all the ‘green’ areas??”

    As in all HiRISE color images, the image is taken in three wavelength bands (one in the red region of the spectrum, one in the blue-green, and one in the infrared) and then they are merged together by applying an appropriate color to each of the layers, usually to maximized to show salient features. So by definition, all HiRISE images are “false color.”

    Whether it represents an accurate recreation of what it would look like to the human eye requires digging into the data file and finding out what color maps were applied, and even then it is difficult to say … notice that it’s very low ilumination, and that always plays havoc with the difference between a sensor image and what a human eye would perceive.

  4. Timothy from Boulder

    Addendum: For some details of the color filtering of the sensor, see my tutorial on Emily Lakdawalla’s blog page,

  5. ABR.

    I think the green spots are the Martian equivalent of sagebrush, the food source, no doubt, of Martian megapods.

  6. kuhnigget

    @ ABR:

    No, no, no! The megapods were hunted to extinction by the guys in blue body suits!

    (But seriously, aren’t the spots just outcroppings of bedrock?)

  7. Charles Boyer

    What’s the Martian equivalent of Gaia?

    Maybe Mars himself is the living being? :-)

  8. chad the impaler

    Ha…Phil experienced Tentacledolia!!!

  9. Brian

    I dunno … it looks just a landscape to me … a landscape designed by H. R. Giger, that is.

  10. kitty

    OK, I saw the photgraph and thought “why does Phil have sperm under a microscope?”

  11. ssurtsord

    Where’s Richard Hoagland when you need him.

  12. Timothy, thanks for the link. I read it.

    Phil always did love that HiRISE image of the Phoenix lander falling through the Martian atmosphere. I liked it too, but I now have an even greater appreciation for it than before. That picture was EVEN HARDER to get than I thought, and I thought it was pretty hard to get.

    It wasn’t just the case that they had to point the camera at the falling lander at the right time, which I think is impressive. They also had to align HiRISE at the perfect angle relative to the trajectory of the falling lander due to the time delay integration of the sensor array. The thought of the math involved makes my eyes roll back in my head. I’m going to try not to pass out.

    I think HiRISE is a spectacular instrument and I appreciate its complexity even better now. It’s like making a three-point shot, but doing it in high heel skates on a skateboard on a greasy bowling ball. Goodness.

  13. Old Geezer

    @Charles Boyer:

    The Martian equivalent of Gaia would be Maria :-)

  14. Sam

    Looks a lot more like erosion due to water than dunes… but I’m a dreamer.

  15. It’s a fantastic lush image. I don’t see jellyfish tenticles like Kitty I see sperm, racing their way towards a non existant martian egg.

  16. IBY

    Yeah, no stinging tentacle crap, or any cephalopod! ^_^

  17. Tracy M

    To me it looks like a bunch of wriggling sperm. This fits into the theory that all the planets are ova ready to hatch out as giant dragons.

  18. Gary

    Not so strange. The same mathematics controls physical and biological processes. Why shouldn’t structures look similar?

    A question: if astronomy is deemed a ‘superior’ science, then why are astronomers searching so hard for off-earth biological activity? Just asking…

  19. quantum cephalopod

    I’m pretty sure PZ would think it was a picture of pharyngeal arches.


    As for me, I’m thinking gills.

  20. OntarioGal

    Wow – what a stunningly lovely image. It rivals anything I’ve seen in a museum (hey – modern art doesn’t HAVE to be ugly 😉

    I <3 nature!


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