Parrrrrrrre… iiiiiiiiii… doooooooliaaaaa!

By Phil Plait | June 26, 2009 7:30 am

Astronomers — even skeptical ones with a sense of humor and an eye for pareidolia — can miss things. In this case, I can hardly believe I somehow dropped the pigskin on this one.

Back in April, I posted an incredibly beautiful picture of sand dunes on Mars taken by the HIRISE camera. Here’s the picture:

Wow. I mean really, wow!

The thing is, I was so drawn to the dunes that I missed something that, in retrospect, makes moi a bit of a fool. Look to the middle right; see that raised dome? Yeah? Well, look a little closer:

Miss Piggy on Mars!

See it? Maybe this comparison will help vous.


It’s so obvious! And what makes it worse is as soon as I saw it I knew why it was there… all you have to do is look at this image of the Martian surface taken by the Viking 1 orbiter back in the 1970s…

Miss Piggy on Mars comparison
Mars Kermit

It’s all clear to me now. It’s not easy being red.

Sigh. Pareidolia is certainly subjective, of course, but as a wise swine once said, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye."

Tip o’ the hand puppet to BABloggee Ken Arthur for notifying me of my oversight. Tip o’ the heat shield as well to the Tampa Bay Skeptics for the Kermit pic.


Comments (59)

  1. MadScientist

    Uh, the top one still looks like a rock to me. The bottom one I can’t make sense of – are there more frames in that image? It looks a bit like dunes to me, but there’s something which looks strange and I might have a better idea of things if I could only see more. Without the bigger picture the bottom one could resemble a goblin engulfed in flames.

  2. Ohio Mike

    Allow me to be the first to say, “I dig the pig!”

  3. Ibeechu

    I rofled.

    But the second point of this comment is to point out that it looks like you forgot to end an HTML tag after those pictures. Your whole blog is centered! It’s freaking me out!

  4. The thing of it is, even if that mesa were an exact replica of a muppet, the surrounding landscape would still draw my attention away.

    That photo should win a Pulitzer. I mean, look at the way the dunes streak away from that bluff on the lower left! Hang that in a modern art museum and it would take the prize every time! Gorgeous!

  5. bkallee

    Don’t get Miss Piggy, I see Kermit however. Looks like an Acorn to me. Help!

  6. Joe Meils

    Mars…Barsoom… The Muppet Planet!

    “A planet where pigs evolved from men?!”

  7. Stan9FOS

    Hi Phil, unrelated but I just saw this lovely story on the BBC:

    Astrologize much?

  8. Stephen

    Clearly those aren’t dunes, they’re giant hoof prints. Not seeing Miss Piggy, though.

  9. Stone Age Scientist

    Er, Phil, that is a near perfect rocket spaceship @ 7 o’clock of Miss Piggy’s.

    OMG, I see the insignia of the UFP.

  10. Tom Kelley

    Phil! You completely missed the “Starfleet” chevrons. Obviously a “Starfleet” ship crashed there and is trying to signal for help. Geez. Do I have to point everything out?

  11. Mark

    I’d like to see Hoagland interpret this.

    “Clearly, early Martians were huge fans of the Muppets.”
    “We have startling evidence that ‘Piiiigs iiiin spaaace’ is based on fact.”

  12. Phil, your slavery to the grand conspiracy to deny life on earth having arisen from Mars is showing. It’s clearly a horseshoe crab.

    horseshoe crab — see

  13. Gary Ansorge

    Ah, Miss Piggy. One of the greatest philosophers of the late 20th century.

    Really like the top pic. It SO looks like flowing water,,,and so does the bottom pic of the Rub Al Khali in the south eastern quarter of Saudi Arabia. That name means The Empty Quarter and it is one of the driest places on earth, with NO precipitation measured in a century, yet there is life in them thar dunes.'_al_Khali

    Gary 7

  14. Tom Woolf

    I missed the Miss Piggy (and as a Muppet fan, I am ashamed). But I saw a stop-motion game of Pacman. TheOtherTom saw Starfleet chevrons in that stop-motion…. I knew Mr. and Mrs. Pacman were not normal, but I never figured them for alien officers in Starfleet.

  15. IVAN3MAN


    But the second point of this comment is to point out that it looks like you forgot to end an HTML tag after those pictures. Your whole blog is centered! It’s freaking me out!

    I presume that you’re using Internet Explorer; that problem appears on my IE8 browser, but not on my Firefox 3.0.11 browser.

    P.S. I could fix it, but it’ll cause all of the pictures in Phil’s post to shift to the left.

  16. Chris G

    The first one looks more like a trilobite to me, while the second photo looks more like a cat growing squid tentacles out its backside.

    Are we sure that Phil and PZ are two different people?

  17. I only see a turtle. Maybe the teenage mutant ninja turtles are from mars.

  18. I had to stare for a while before I got either picture. My first thought was that the mesa was the “face on Mars”.

    This is a pretty far stretch for pareidolia. Which explains the title of this post, I guess.

  19. fizzyb

    I’ve always heard beauty is in the eye of the beer holder. :)

    I saw the piggy quite easily, though.

  20. Metre

    Sorry, I don’t see anything in any image but Martian surface features. I must be pareidolia-challenged.

  21. Jeff

    What’s up Phil, doing the RCH thing? Just kidding

  22. WJM

    I totally see Starfleet logos.

    And Pac-Men.

  23. jamerz3294

    Hmmm… have the 2012 Doomsayers seen this? It might just be the last piece of the puzzle for them?!

  24. Brian Gregory

    What’s with all the duck footprints?

  25. James E.

    I agree with Aggrazel #17. I see the top of a turtle shell in shallow water flowing from left to right. Ever see the Neverending story, the big turtle, Morla, that Atreyu got stranded on. I think we should follow Buzz Aldrin’s advice and skip the Moon and head to Mars and see for our selves!

  26. And the thing with pareidolia is that all it takes is a suggestion about what you’re supposed to be seeing, and you’ll see it. I saw the old “Have a nice day” smiley face until Phil put the Miss Piggy image next to it. Now, I see Miss Piggy.

    And I gotta agree with the “it looks like flowing water” angle. Raindrops on a windshield, anyone?

  27. Gary Ansorge

    20. Metre

    Some recent fMri scans of people brains indicate the right hemisphere analyzes large area(implied) patterns and initiates fight or flight reactions and anger/rage. It appears that’s how folk managed to avoid being eaten by predators. The left hemisphere analyzes fine detail and is more associated with upbeat emotions. So I guess, in the time of saber tooth tigers, you would have needed a care taker, with all their attendant woo-wooness,,,while you were analyzing the effects of tree bark on headaches and fever(and being tickled pink over your discoveries), they would have been watching for the tigers,,,

    See, we have a need for both types(at least, in a “natural” environment)

    Gary 7

  28. Chris Lamb

    Nah that just sucks Phil.

    I mean it’s not Lenin is it?

  29. pvrug

    I can’t believe no one has said this yet: “Pigs in Spaaaaaaaaace”

  30. pvrug

    Oh. Someone did say it. Nevermind. *sigh*. Sorry.

  31. Ken

    I thought the pareidolia was the whole HIRISE image – it’s a profile, facing left (with the rather long nose cut off), with a clear eye and mouth. Miss Piggy is in the position of an ear, or perhaps ear-ring.

  32. erlando

    @Ken: That was my exact thought.

  33. I couldn’t help myself over on Digg. It’s a character flaw, really.
    Pusillanimous pussyfooter persistently pursues perfidious pareidolia?

  34. JoeSmithCA

    I don’t care about the pareidolia, the image is just freakin awesome.

  35. Nitpicking: the ‘Starfleet’ logo was originally (TOS) the Enterprise logo (check out any of the other ships’ characters having different logos)


  36. Trilobite, definitely, not Miss Piggy. And I saw the face-in-profile, too.

  37. I can’t believe nobody has spotted it yet! It’s obviously the ship from Flight of the Navigator! Funny, could have sworn that was at MGM studios in Florida – I even took a picture of it…

  38. TJ

    Pareidolia … ya mean, as in ‘dark matter’?

  39. I still think they’re sandworm tracks.

  40. Phil, you are not too far off the mark. I see one of the Podlings from the animated movie Dark Crystal produced by Jim Henson. Down with the Skeksis!

  41. My first thought was an “Eagle” from Space 1999 coming straight at you.

    – Jack

  42. You’re missing the coded message in the first image, written in Martian Linear B. It says “MARS NEEDS TURTLE WOMEN.” (The text below the straight line is apparently the opening lyric of a sappy Martian turtle love ballad.)

    Kermit appears to really, really need to go to the bathroom, or just took a “HIII-YAAA!” to the cloaca.

  43. ppb

    I don’t know about Miss Piggy, but the top image looks like something by Salvador Dali.

    Very cool, and surreal!

  44. Davidlpf

    I think the image was porkshopped.

  45. Chip

    Phil Says:
    “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

    fizzyb Says:
    I’ve always heard beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.

    Chip Says:
    Or in this case, “Beauty is in the eye of the guy from Boulder.”

  46. Yeah, I’m going to agree with Robert on this one – definitely a horseshoe crab.

  47. John

    It looks more like Olimar from Pikmin…proof that humans will eventually leave Earth or die.

    Also, in the top left corner, there is a rat and on the bottom bluff, the turtle is probably the only piece of pareidolia that no one will argue with.

  48. Sman

    @ Joel and Robert:

    Mmmmm, I’d say it more resembles a pygidium from an asaphid trilobite. Google Isotelus sp.

  49. Semantic Nazi

    I can hardly believe I somehow dropped the pigskin on this one.

    Well that’s very non-Kosher of you! 😉
    … Not to mention the fact that you must have had a ve-ery large (mutant? Godzilla-ed?) pig skinned and then had that skin fired off in a rocket very quickly to drape the Martian landscape with said pigskin … 😉

    Sorry I can’t see it. :-(

    (Well that is I *can* see the image but I’m not getting the “Miss Piggy” paridolia -or your modestly draped over pigskin in it.)

    BTW. That’s the worst spelling of paridolia yet there BA. 😉

    PS. Have we all been centralised here? 😉

    @ 50 Sman : I’d say it more resembles a pygidium from an asaphid trilobite.

    I know what a pgyidium is – its a trilobites backside! Well back segment technically.

  50. So, is Swine Flu of Martian origin?

  51. kryth69

    I don’t see it.

  52. Joseph

    Damn it! Now I can’t not see the pig in the planet… Curses!


  53. brnofeathers

    The pig is pretty cool, Phil, but did you also happen to notice that tiny artifact at the bottom-left of the image?

  54. Looks more like Eric Cartman to me.

  55. Damon

    I don’t get it.


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