Marshenge: Seeing Squares and Circles Where There Aren’t Any

I’m all in favor of citizen-science. It’s great that people are, for instance, poring over photos from NASA’s HiRISE mission to Mars. But sometimes that leads to aberrations: people mistaking very normal things to “mysterious” remains of civilizations. A recent one (which I found through the Daily Mail and GMX) has already been dubbed “Marshenge,” a portmanteau of “Mars” and “henge,” as in Stonehenge.

The low-resolution so-called Marshenge

A low-resolution of the so-called Marshenge. Courtesy of NASA.

The photo under scrutiny allegedly shows stones put in a square, surrounded by two circles with stones. The Daily Mail, to be fair, provided an explanation of pareidolia and let scientists talk too, but in my opinion gave way too much time to UFO enthusiasts who were speculating wildly about links with Stonehenge (or other similar structures on Earth).

I understand that someone looking at the entire photo finds the apparent regularity interesting. The supposed formation is found in a small portion of a large photo and was found by someone on the Internet who zoomed in way too much on a jpeg file (meaning a compressed file that loses information from the original) and drew a rectangle and some circles on it. Then it was shown on a YouTube channel called “Mister Enigma,” and media reported on it by screengrabbing their pictures from the video.

Marshenge, as imagined by an "UFO Expert"

Marshenge, as diagrammed by an “UFO Expert.”

The first problem, which any journalist should at least hinted at, is that the drawings don’t match with what you see even on the low-image file. The rectangle is not drawn in the middle of the stone near the bottom of the picture. If you check my correction below, it’s much less “convincing.”

The first circle goes through two stones, maybe three stones if I’m willing to go with the argument.

The second circle is completely ridiculous. The lines go through no stones at all; it just makes sure any small boulder is inside it. That, in my opinion, is not evidence of anything. I can draw circles that better match the stones in the picture (see below) but then it’s no longer symmetric. Perhaps the alien builders really liked asymmetrical designs. But my theory is as good as any other—pure speculation.

My version of the "structure" - matches better the stones but less "beautiful"

My version of the “structure” matches better the stones but is less “beautiful.”

Secondly, the image that gets passed around (and sometimes even linked from on UFO “experts” websites) is a lower quality version, intended for quick browsing on the web. Even the originating file itself is labeled “browse,” as in “browser friendly version” in its filename. It’s only 872kb large, while the available high-resolution file is a whopping 277 Mb. When I zoom in on this magnificent picture (every pixel is only 25 cm across), you see the following:

High-resolution version ... much more impressive as a photo, quite a disappointment for the "structure"

The high-resolution version is much more impressive as a photo, but quite a disappointment for the “structure.”

Now the four stones, in their irregular setup, are still there. The first circle however is no longer there. There are just three more stones to the left, and it becomes clear that compression gave the impression of a circle. The second circle has all but disappeared. If you zoom out, you see there are just a couple of stones that might more or less follow the form of the hill. The stones that might have indicated the second circle aren’t just that clear-cut anymore. Nowhere can there be a clear circle drawn, unless if you mean by that circle the hill itself. The form of the hill (circular) is no mystery, and can be easily explained by natural means. By all means, my extract doesn’t do it justice; check the original file (JP2 format) and zoom in at 100% to be amazed.

Real science: possible rhythmites

Real science: possible rhythmites.

In the meantime, this nonsense also obscures a much more interesting scientific topic, on the same photo. On their website, HiRISE reported on the presence of possible rhythmites, meaning layers of sediments deposited regularly. These might indicate something much more interesting than those four stones on a hill, for instance indicating tides or periodic flooding. But that didn’t get reported on.

About Bruno Van de Casteele

Philosopher by education, IT'er by trade. Allround Armchair Skeptic, History Enthusiast, Father of Three. Twitter @brunovdc Personal website: www.puam.be
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9 Responses to Marshenge: Seeing Squares and Circles Where There Aren’t Any

  1. Paul Carter Block says:

    I think that, with all the emphasis placed on the megalithic structures in the centre, everyone seems to have ignored what is plainly a defensive ditch dug all around the site to keep out predatory Marscats.
    Pareidolia accounts for innocent misinterpretations of random patterns but the Face of Cydonia, miles-long excavator machines on the Moon and this Stonehenge lookalike are part of a cynical industry fuelled by a shocking level of gullibility.

  2. The most interesting item in the whole sorry business is the final remark: “These might indicate something much more interesting than those four stones on a hill, for instance indicating tides or periodic flooding. But that didn’t get reported on.”
    Typi-bloody-cal!
    The guys don’t only lack the scientific knowledge and understanding to compose a coherent theme, they lack the scientific insight to report on something substantial…

  3. Wim Lahaye says:

    Geometrical patterns can occur in nature and are not necessarily linked to “intelligent” civilisations. The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is just one example. Demystification can be useful, but why is it so important for the author(s), would be my question?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant%27s_Causeway

  4. Rob says:

    A line can only be straight or curved. Shocking they are able to find “circles and squares” in random natural features. Look up in the sky and notice both the Sun and the Moon are nearly perfect circles.

    OMG, ancient astronauts created them as a message to us!

  5. Bill Kowalski says:

    It’s going to take a lot more than a few rocks in a somewhat squarish formation to prove anything other than when you have an entire planet covered with rocks you will likely get some interesting formations somewhere on it. I wonder if aliens built Rock City in Chattanooga…

  6. Barry Coldrick says:

    4 rocks forming a quadrilateral. What are the chances?

  7. Today’s current state of carbon dioxide atmosphered Mars is what happens to previously habitable planets when Queens do not timely unearth Darkenergy’s arks of his testimonies?
    Interestingly enough Darkenergy’s Mars ark of his covenant remains under his Mars Stonehenge below his Mars outlier Heelstone, will UKSA & NASA survive to unearth it one day?

    Lucifer Stars

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