"Boring" pictures of Mars

I'm with Steve Silberman, who tweeted this image, taken by the Mars Curiosity rover. Silberman, a science journalist, pointed out how amazing it is to be able to have access to photos of Mars that look totally ordinary, decidedly un-exotic, and even a little dull.

There is a delightful irony here. Think of all the work, all the skill, all the serious intelligence that went into getting Curiosity to Mars. This photo is kind of boring. But it represents something truly wonderful and exciting. It's mundane. But it's the mundanity of M*#&$%*!(*%ING MARS.

I dig it. And I'm a little surprised there wasn't already a Tumblr for it.

Check out Steve Silberman's excellent, science-packed Twitter feed


  1. Well, of course it’s boring.  They sent it to Marks because it is closest (i.e. most similar) to Earth of all the other planets. 

    (Edit: I admit, bare-breasted natives would be a plus, but since that’s not gonna happen….)

    1. Venus is closer and more similar to the Earth than Mars. Mars, however, captures our imaginations and probably had conditions suitable for life about 3.5 billion years ago (before its magnetic field failed and its atmosphere and oceans where stripped away into space). Venus is also a lot harder to land on and conduct science.

      1. In terms of size, yes.  Otherwise, not so much. The rotation is exceedingly long and the atmosphere is way different.

        1. The atmosphere of Mars is almost non-existent. At ‘sea-level’ it has ~0.5% the atmosphere of the Earth. Venus has 93 times the atmospheric pressure of the Earth. I would say that Venus has a closer atmosphere to that of the Earth because there is a substantial greenhouse effect on both the Earth and Venus, while the greenhouse effect on Mars is negligible.

          1. Which means that people can do on Mars with a relatively simple pressure suit.   

            Venus, on the other hand, crushes and boils any terrestrial visitors. 

            I’d *love* it, if Venus were close to Earth, but it’s a hellhole which makes Mars look hospitable.

          2. @retepslluerb:disqus Okay, I see where you are coming from. I was thinking in the scientific sense. But as far as being useful for humans to live on and do stuff on, Mars is the main show in town.

          3. Actually, reply to Retep (below) – “people can do on Mars with a relatively simple pressure suit. “
            PLUS some overclothes – get’s awfully cold at night there.

  2. THREEPIO: “Well, I’m not going that way. It’s much too rocky. This way is much easier.”

          1.  idkwtf you are talking about. Star Wars is real, man. You didn’t have to change it all. What happened to the Star Wars that I used to know?

  3. As always, Douglas Adams put it best:

    “It’s fantastic… Don’t you understand, this is the first time I’ve actually stood on the surface of another planet … a whole alien world! Pity it’s such a dump though.”

  4. If you want boring, look at the Moon pictures (I’m not talking about the astronauts and rovers or when the Earth also appears)! A lot of the Solar System isn’t particularly photogenic when put into the frame of what a human observer would actually see. Our excitement comes by the knowledge they contain, not their aesthetics. Really, the most exciting planet for pictures of what a human would actually see is the Earth.

    The picture that I hope to see in my life is of the surface of an icy moon, like Europa. Even if it is a flat ice field it will be exciting despite how boring it would look.

    1. I disagree. The surface of the moon is different enough that it’s not likely to be confused with a terrestrial desert. Plus, earthrises are AWESOME.

      1. Earthrises are awesome, but the only location you can see them from the surface would be the slivers on the edge where the libration brings the Earth in and out of view. The vast majority of the Moon has the Earth always in the sky or never in the sky.

  5. Isn’t that the duality of life itself? Exciting/boring, lifeless/teaming, and distant/near all give me a perspective on my own existence. (love the “Iron-y” line too, 1st true laugh of the day!)

  6. yes, i would never want to travel off-planet. it all looks (or would look) so boring when you’re actually there.

    like the ocean.

  7. But mundane means “of this world, as opposed to a heavenly one,” so wouldn’t a coinage like, say, “areane” be more to the point? 

  8. I love this.  My favorite thing to ponder as of late, is what if all this space exploration just leads us to discover that everything, and all ‘alien’ life is really just not very different from the exotic we have walking or swimming around on the earth.  If life was seeded from space, maybe it all more or less comes out pretty much the same.  Apart from the random sentient cloud, maybe star trek nailed it.

  9. Adding to the boringness of the photos is that we’ve seen many rovers on the surface of Mars now.  And they always send back photos that look like this.

  10. yeah, i can’t believe people say this. yes, it’s just “boring rocks”… ON ANOTHER PLANET. that we can see because we sent a robot there that we can control to take photos and send them back to us. how is that not AMAZING?

    1. It’s this idea that always makes me expect to see SG-1 off in the distance. TV has ruined me forever!

  11. What?! Who thinks this photo is boring?!

    It’s a Martian landscape. With gorgeous evocative mountains fading away into the distance and everything. You can imagine yourself standing there, looking at those mountains, knowing that you have this whole world. And this time, you really do — you’re not stealing it from people who already live there. It’s truly wide open and empty and ready to be explored. You’re experiencing something no one has ever experienced before.

    How can that not be thrilling?

    1. The photo is boring in the sense that you wouldn’t spend more than a second or two looking at it if you didn’t know the context. It’s that context that’s exciting, not the image itself.

    2.  Human nature being what it is, the *second* person to walk on Mars will likely have to pay some sort of admission fee to the planet’s owner.

  12. Going off the colour, I’m guessing this is the nougat layer, and we’ll see the much more interesting caramel and chocolate layers soon.

  13. Hollywood has ruined our ability to imagine and conceive of things yet unknown. Our capacity for accepting an alien world as being less than the one’s on the big screen has reduced our ability to appreciate what is real.

  14. People often ask me if I like rocks when they find out that I’m a geologist (well, they almost always phrase it as “so you must really like rocks, huh!”). The truth is that I’m bored to tears by them. I’m really not very interested – to me rocks are sort of a tool; a piece of data that tells me something else that is much more interesting (plenty of geologists are actually interested in the rocks themselves regardless of what they tell you, but not me).

    When I look at photos from Mars, though, my eye is immediately drawn to one of two places – either to the mountains in the distance if they’re visible, or to any rocks that are close enough and big enough to see clearly. There’s just so much potential in these rocks, especially with the recent announcement of evidence of relatively recent active tectonics on Mars. 

    Moon rocks, incidentally, are cool but not that interesting to me scientifically. Mars rocks will surely seem as mundane as moon rocks eventually (barring the discovery of truly exotic stuff) but at this point they are the most interesting rocks in the graspable universe. 

    The scientific context, plus all the other reasons that these photos aren’t boring that have already been provided in the comments, means that even though you can go to Death Valley and see things that are very, very similar (and I do suggest that you go there even though it’s kind of boring), photos from Mars are never boring.

    And yes – my mind and my eyes are trained to look at photos of visually boring things like the surface of mars in a very different way from anyone else. I’m not looking at the photo as a whole (and I am also a photographer and have trained myself to do that too, by the way), I’m scanning closely for the little details, looking for hints of interesting things they might tell us.

    p.s. if you want to see really spectacular stuff from mars, check out images from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu/nea.php

  15. The real irony is that we’re interested in the potential of lifeless old Mars at the same time our own habitable planet’s ecosystems and mild climate are slowing collapsing. 

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