This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.
I’ve seen weird-looking things on Mars, particularly when it comes to rocks shaped like a cat or a butt, but I never expected an image from the red planet that made me think “acne outbreak.” Big thanks to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for putting that unsettling vision in my mind.
The MRO HiRise camera team at the University of Arizona shared an eye-catching view of the Martian surface as a picture of the day on Wednesday. At first glance it looks like a white landscape with upward white bumps emerging from a dark red patch of ground. Yes, it looks like pimples.
There’s a bit of an optical illusion at play here. “Woah, no need to reach for the benzoyl peroxide or pimple patches,” the HiRise team wrote. “These reddish and white patches are actually depressions (not hills), still covered in seasonal carbon dioxide ice on Mars’ South Polar layered deposits.”
Here’s a similarly illusion-y pit/plateau image from Mars that will challenge you to see it as an indentation and not a raised ridge.
Mars is constantly peppered by rocks. NASA’s InSight lander mission (which is now in its final days) has tracked recent meteoroid impacts with its marsquake-sensing seismometer.
MRO captured the image in August. It’s in good company with some of the orbiter’s other funky sightings, like this Pac-Man crater and this landscape that looks like a Pink Floyd album cover.
The craters are noteworthy for appearing as a cluster as opposed to a single crater. The grouping suggests an incoming space rock broke apart on its way down through the planet’s atmosphere, leaving behind the scattershot depressions cosplaying as whiteheads. Mars may have to worry about incoming rocks, but it doesn’t have to worry about ordering an industrial supply of Clearasil.