Surprise interplanetary pachyderm

In this photo, supplied by NASA, lava flows have formed a rather unusual image which surprised scientists. Photo / University of Arizona
In this photo, supplied by NASA, lava flows have formed a rather unusual image which surprised scientists. Photo / University of Arizona

Lava flows on Mars have formed an image of an elephant's head on the surface of the Red Planet.

The photo, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is of a lava flow in Elysium Planitia, the youngest flood-lava province on Mars.

The trunk, eyes and ears of an elephant can be seen in the imprint on the planet's surface.

University of Arizona planetary geologist Alfred McEwen said the image was a good example of the phenomena pareidolia, where we see images of things that are not really there.

Dr McEwen said the flood lavas cover extensive areas, and were once thought to be emplaced extremely rapidly, like a flood of water.

"Most lava floods on Earth are emplaced over years to decades, and this is probably true for much of the lava on Mars as well. An elephant can walk away from the slowly advancing flow front. However, there is also evidence for much more rapidly flowing lava on Mars, a true flood of lava.

"In this instance, maybe this elephant couldn't run away fast enough," he wrote on the HiRISE website.

- Herald Online staff

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