Image: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona
In season three of Voyager, in the episode "Future's End," the ship gets sucked into a graviton field and spit out in 1996, our current day. You might remember the two-part tale as the one with Sarah Silverman and Ed Begley, Jr. Speaking of Silverman, she played a character named Rain Robinson, a Los Angeles scientist scanning working for SETI.
If you're wondering why we're opening this story with Rain Robinson, it's because of a newspaper clipping tacked to the wall of her cluttered office.
"Life on Mars?" the headline reads. Two decades onward from 1996, we have better answers… and newfound questions.
As in: How the heck did a giant Starfleet insignia show up on the surface of Mars?
Mars does not figure too much into the Star Trek universe. Though in the lore of the franchise we know that the Ares IV, under the command of John Kelly, carried a manned mission to the fourth planet in the year 2032.
While we wait another 13 years for that historic moment, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has given Trekkies a tantalizing teaser.
The MRO's HiRise camera, utilized by scientists at the University of Arizona, snapped a marvelous image of surface formations that bear an uncanny resemblance to the Star Trek logo. There are several of them.
So what are they exactly? These crescent-shaped "dune footprints" (no relation of the sci-fi novel Dune) were formed ages ago as islands in a sea of lava that eventually blew away in the wind — into this distinctive shape.
"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," explained U of A scientist Ross Beyer.
He added, "Enterprising viewers will make the discovery that these features look conspicuously like a famous logo: and you’d be right, but it’s only a coincidence."
Well, as far as we know. Seems like as good a place as any to land the Ares IV.
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