First Images of Strange Natural Features on Mars!

Weird objects seen on Mars, explained

From a “butt crack rock” to a cannonball, entertaining images from Mars amuse scientists and excite conspiracy theorists and alien fans.

#Mars #Space #Solarsystem #Weird #Astronomy

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Face on Mars is a classic

Humans love a good space story. That’s why it’s so much fun to speculate about unusual objects seen in images of Mars. Our imaginations turn rock formations into fish and cosmic rays into alien communications. A recent image from the NASA Perseverance rover generated plenty of jokes about what looks like a rear end. Is it an alien keister? Nope. It’s just a goofy rock formation.

Join us as we explore some famous Mars mysteries and the scientific explanations behind them.

NASA’s Viking 1 Orbiter zipped near Mars in 1976 and took this now iconic image of the surface. What got everyone excited is the face-like formation in the upper center of the picture. If you have a creative mind, it’s easy to see it as having two eyes, a nose, a mouth and a weird hairdo. It even looks a bit like a young Elvis Presley. You can see why some people thought the face was an alien-built monument on Mars.


2 of 57NASA

A newer look at the Mars face

NASA wasn’t going to let the face on Mars go without an explanation. The Mars Global Surveyor cleared things up for good in 2001 by taking a fresh image of the face. The newer, sharper, higher-resolution picture shows a much blobbier, less stark formation. In short, it’s just a mesa and not an alien-carved religious site.READ MORE


3 of 57NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Perseverance rover ‘Butt crack rock’

NASA’s Perseverance rover arrived on the red planet in February 2021 and has since snapped a bounty of images of the landscape in the Jezero Crater. This fantastically funny-looking rock caught the eye of space fans who laughed about its resemblance to a rear end. It earned the nickname “butt crack rock.”READ MORE


4 of 57ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Mars south pole ‘angel’ and ‘heart’

Apply a little imagination to this European Space Agency Mars Express view of the red planet’s south pole and you’ll see an angel and a heart together. ESA described it as an “angelic figure” in a December 2020 image release. 

It’s simply a bit of geology on display from the icy polar region where an impact crater forms the “head” and halo, and a sublimation pit (a spot where the ice turned to vapor) formed the “hand” on the left.READ MORE


5 of 57NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mother of pearl clouds

Yes, these shimmering, colorful clouds appeared on Mars. NASA’s Curiosity rover doesn’t just eye the local geology; it also documents what’s happening in the sky. This view of iridescent “mother of pearl” clouds comes from March 5, 2021.

“If you see a cloud with a shimmery pastel set of colors in it, that’s because the cloud particles are all nearly identical in size,” said atmospheric scientist Mark Lemmon with the Space Science Institute in Colorado. “That’s usually happening just after the clouds have formed and have all grown at the same rate.”  READ MORE


6 of 57NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/Red circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Not a drill bit

This is not a Phillips-head drill bit on Mars, but it’s fun to pretend. Citizen scientist Kevin Gill spotted this odd, small rock in a Curiosity rover image from late 2020 and cracked a joke about it looking like a drill bit. READ MORE


7 of 57NASA/JPL-Caltech/Kevin Gill

“Brachiosaurus” rock

Software engineer and citizen scientists Kevin Gill has a knack for finding funny Mars rocks in rover images. He spotted this brachiosaurus-shaped rock as snapped by the Perseverance rover on Mars in April 2021. Unfortunately, we’ve seen no evidence of real dinosaurs on Mars, and we’re still looking for signs of ancient microbial life. READ MORE


8 of 57NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Mr. Peanut?

The HiRise camera team for NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft spotted a Planters Mr. Peanut mascot lookalike in this collection of pits on Mars. “The south polar residual cap is constantly changing as carbon dioxide sublimates from steep slopes, enlarging pits, and condenses on flat areas, filling pits,” wrote planetary geologist Alfred McEwen in a HiRise statement in May 2021.

I think this looks like Mr. Peanut spawning Baby Nut, which is even weirder than if it was just Mr. Peanut alone.READ MORE


9 of 57NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Red circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Robot leg or rock? It’s a rock

Not a boot. Not a bot. This tiny rock on Mars captured attention in early 2019 thanks to its resemblance to a boot or a robot leg. It’s neither of those things, but it is a fun shape. The images comes from NASA’s Curiosity rover.READ MORE


10 of 57NASA/JPL/UArizona

HiRise dust devil tracks

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught sight of some wild dust devils tracks on Mars in late 2018. They look like claw marks, and they pop out thanks to the image processing done on this view from the spacecraft’s HiRise camera. Mars is a very windy place and dust devils are common.READ MORE


11 of 57NASA/JPL-Caltech

Belly pan

If this looks like it was made by humans, it’s because it was. NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars in February 2021 and it left some debris behind on the ground when it dropped an ejectable belly pan on purpose. The pan acted as a protective cover for the rover’s sampling system, which will allow it to collect and cache rock samples for a later mission to come pick up. After landing, the cover was no longer needed.READ MORE


12 of 57NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Perseverance sees a rock

NASA’s Perseverance rover snapped a view of this odd rock on March 2021. If you look closely just to the right of center, you can see a series of tiny marks where the rover’s laser zapped it. This was the first celebrity rock of the rover’s expedition as scientists and space fans questioned if was a weathered piece of bedrock, a chunk or Mars thrown from somewhere else by an impact event, or possibly a meteorite.READ MORE


13 of 57NASA/JPL/UArizona

Happy Face Crater

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter viewed the “Happy Face Crater” on Mars in both 2011 and 2020 and found some changes in its complexion. You can see how it got its nickname. The crater is located in the south pole region and the difference in darkness of the features is due to the changing frost cover on the ground.READ MORE


14 of 57NASA/JPL-Caltech/Red circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Dark, shiny boulder

NASA’s Curiosity rover snapped this view of a dark, shiny boulder on Mars on Dec. 6, 2020. The overall view is lovely, but the boulder was a bit of a mystery for how it stood out against the surrounding landscape. It’s possible the boulder could be a meteorite or was perhaps deposited there from elsewhere on Mars.READ MORE


15 of 57NASA/JPL/MSSS/The Murray Lab

Possible volcanic eruption site

Mars has a volcanic past, but there have been questions about whether it’s been volcanically active more recently in its history. A research team suggested a “mysterious dark deposit” seen here could be evidence of an explosive volcanic deposit from within the last 50,000 years. For size, the deposit covers an area slightly larger than Washington DC.READ MORE


16 of 57NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Pancake-shaped rock

This is exactly what my misshapen pancakes look like on Sunday mornings. NASA’s Curiosity rover snapped this shiny, flattish rock in November 2020, leading space fans to compare it with various food items, including pancakes and melted chocolate ice cream. The rock may have been polished to a sheen thanks to wind and sand action.READ MORE

Bone-shaped rock on Mars

17 of 57NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Oh look, a thigh bone on Mars

Mark one up for the funny-bone file. NASA’s Curiosity rover sent a photo back to Earth in 2014 that showed a very odd rock shaped a bit like a femur bone from a human thigh. Scientists obligingly explained that the unusual shape was most likely the product of erosion by wind or water. If NASA ever did amazingly find human remains on Mars, scientists would want to shout it from the rooftops.READ MORE

Mars dunes

18 of 57NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Morse code?

This view from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, snapped in February 2016, shows some strange formations on the surface of the red planet. The dark, raised areas are a series of dunes that look a lot like the dots and dashes of Morse code.

Unfortunately, the code spells out gibberish. Planetary scientist Veronica Bray analyzed the dune image and told Gizmodo the code works out to read “NEE NED ZB 6TNN DEIBEDH SIEFI EBEEE SSIEI ESEE SEEE !!”

New AI improves itself through Darwinian-style evolution

AutoML-Zero is a proof-of-concept project that suggests the future of machine learning may be machine-created algorithms.

#AI #Machinelearning #evolution #computing #algorithms

New AI improves itself through Darwinian-style evolution


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  • Automatic machine learning is a fast-developing branch of deep learning.
  • It seeks to vastly reduce the amount of human input and energy needed to apply machine learning to real-world problems.
  • AutoML-Zero, developed by scientists at Google, serves as a simple proof-of-concept that shows how this kind of technology might someday be scaled up and applied to more complex problems.

Machine learning has fundamentally changed how we engage with technology. Today, it’s able to curate social media feeds, recognize complex images, drive cars down the interstate, and even diagnose medical conditions, to name a few tasks.

But while machine learning technology can do some things automatically, it still requires a lot of input from human engineers to set it up, and point it in the right direction. Inevitably, that means human biases and limitations are baked into the technology.

So, what if scientists could minimize their influence on the process by creating a system that generates its own machine-learning algorithms? Could it discover new solutions that humans never considered?

To answer these questions, a team of computer scientists at Google developed a project called AutoML-Zero, which is described in a preprint paper published on arXiv.

“Human-designed components bias the search results in favor of human-designed algorithms, possibly reducing the innovation potential of AutoML,” the paper states. “Innovation is also limited by having fewer options: you cannot discover what you cannot search for.”

Automatic machine learning (AutoML) is a fast-growing area of deep learning. In simple terms, AutoML seeks to automate the end-to-end process of applying machine learning to real-world problems. Unlike other machine-learning techniques, AutoML requires relatively little human effort, which means companies might soon be able to utilize it without having to hire a team of data scientists.

AutoML-Zero is unique because it uses simple mathematical concepts to generate algorithms “from scratch,” as the paper states. Then, it selects the best ones, and mutates them through a process that’s similar to Darwinian evolution.

AutoML-Zero first randomly generates 100 candidate algorithms, each of which then performs a task, like recognizing an image. The performance of these algorithms is compared to hand-designed algorithms. AutoML-Zero then selects the top-performing algorithm to be the “parent.”

“This parent is then copied and mutated to produce a child algorithm that is added to the population, while the oldest algorithm in the population is removed,” the paper states.

The system can create thousands of populations at once, which are mutated through random procedures. Over enough cycles, these self-generated algorithms get better at performing tasks.

“The nice thing about this kind of AI is that it can be left to its own devices without any pre-defined parameters, and is able to plug away 24/7 working on developing new algorithms,” Ray Walsh, a computer expert and digital researcher at ProPrivacy, told Newsweek.

If computer scientists can scale up this kind of automated machine-learning to complete more complex tasks, it could usher in a new era of machine learning where systems are designed by machines instead of humans. This would likely make it much cheaper to reap the benefits of deep learning, while also leading to novel solutions to real-world problems.

Still, the recent paper was a small-scale proof of concept, and the researchers note that much more research is needed.

“Starting from empty component functions and using only basic mathematical operations, we evolved linear regressors, neural networks, gradient descent… multiplicative interactions. These results are promising, but there is still much work to be done,” the scientists’ preprint paper noted.