NASA has spotted a bit of familiar pop culture imagery on Mars, of all places. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recently photographed a dune on the faraway planet that looks suspiciously like a Starfleet logo from Star Trek. The question is, how did such a thing wind up on Mars? The answer is possibly less exciting than the image itself, as it’s not rooted in some crazy sci-fi tale. Though, science, in its pure, real form, does have an explanation.
The image was spotted on southeast Hellas Planitia region of Mars. The photographs were captured by the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on the Orbiter and shared online by The University of Arizona, who actually manages the camera. Even they acknowledged the similarity in the imagery to that of a Starfleet insignia. However, in a statement released on their website, they offered the following explanation for how such a thing came to be on a planet that is, on average, 140 million miles away from Earth. Here’s what they had to say about it.
“These curious chevron shapes in southeast Hellas Planitia are the result of a complex story of dunes, lava, and wind. Long ago, there were large crescent-shaped (barchan) dunes that moved across this area, and at some point, there was an eruption. The lava flowed out over the plain and around the dunes, but not over them. The lava solidified, but these dunes still stuck up like islands. However, they were still just dunes, and the wind continued to blow. Eventually, the sand piles that were the dunes migrated away, leaving these ‘footprints’ in the lava plain. These are also called ‘dune casts’ and record the presence of dunes that were surrounded by lava.”
Perhaps not as grabby as “Gene Roddenberry was actually an alien from Mars” or whatever outlandish explanations one could come up with when left to their own devices, but no less fascinating. William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series, took to Twitter to have some fun with the whole thing, taking a fun-loving shot at the Star Wars franchise in the process. Here’s what he had to say.
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“Hey Star Sars! Will you hurry up your Rebel Scums? We beat you!”
Even with the logical, Spock-like explanation for the image, it’s still remarkable. It’s also a bit more fitting to see something from Star Trek in our solar system, as opposed to Star Wars. The former franchise was always somewhat grounded, in as much as something like it can be. Star Wars, on the other hand, is less so and takes place in a galaxy far, far away.
As for the actual Star Trek franchise, CBS All Access is going strong with Star Trek: Discovery, and they also have the Picard series coming down the pipeline later this year. On the big screen, there’s still a chance that Quentin Tarantino is going to make his R-rated Star Trek movie, which is almost as bizarre as this symbol. Be sure to check out the image from the HiRISE (NASA) Twitter account.