Skeptoid PodcastSkeptoid on Facebook   Skeptoid on Twitter   Skeptoid on Stitcher   iTunes   Google Play

Members Portal



Get a Free Book



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

by Bruno Van de Casteele

October 11, 2015

Share Tweet Reddit

Donate 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 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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

by Bruno Van de Casteele

Share Tweet Reddit

@Skeptoid Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit