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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

No, NASA Didn’t Find Plastic Beads on Mars

By Phil Plait

I got a note from my friend Jules at Geeky Pleasures letting me know that a hoax website has turned up claiming NASA found plastic beads on Mars. Letâs be clear right away, folks: duh. Itâs a hoax.

I can see why some people might fall for it though; the faker put in a solid effort to mimic JPLâs layout and style. Actual NASA scientists are quoted, too, and a lot of it is based on just enough truth to squeak past some baloney detectors. Heck, this even got linked on Slashdot! Happily, it got shot down pretty quickly

Clearly, the hoaxer is counting on the recent foofooraw about NASA having found something on Mars, a rumor that was quickly shown here on Slate to be a big misunderstanding by a reporter who interviewed a NASA scientist.

[UPDATE (23:00 UTC November 30, 2012): Yup, this is exactly right: my friend Alan Boyle over at Cosmic Log has the inside scoop, including an interview with the site's author!]

Iâm very sure this is just someone having some fun, but I also know, given my experience with the Internet, thisâll spread like wildfire. So what the heck. How do I know itâs a fake? Tons of reason, actually.

1) The picture shown is a pretty obvious fake. Itâs an actual shot of Mars with what looks like Mardi Gras beads Photoshopped into it. I mean, câmon. You can tell by the pixels.

2) The main page of the site has a picture talking about the Face on Mars. Again, câmon. And the face has a Wookiee Photoshopped over it. Donât believe me? The pictureâs filename is âmars-wookiee-face.gifâ. Kudos, though: he spelled âWookieeâ correctly.

3) Speaking of the main page, all NASA sites have a â.govâ top level domain, not â.usâ.

4) The owner of the site, according to WHOIS, is Xevier Jenks, who once sent out an obviously joke press release about Bigfoot in New Orleans.

5) The page borrows liberally from actual NASA press releases, reusing quotes from scientists talking about different things on Mars.

6) Also? If they had found plastic on Mars, Iâm pretty sure NASA would make a big deal of it. Mind you, they did find plastic on Mars a little while back, but it was from Curiosity itself. And that did cause quite a stir. So if this were real, youâd be hearing a lot more about it.

Whoever did this is perhaps not being malevolent, but instead just having a laugh. To be honest, I think itâs pretty funny, even if it means I have to sit at my desk writing up yet another debunking of silliness when Iâd rather be getting my dinner. However, Iâll note the WHOIS info linked above is pretty fishy, and I suspect that falsely filling out some of that info may be illegal.

As pranks go, Iâd give this a solid 6, on a scale where the Kardashians would rate a 2 and scientology is a 10. Not bad, but had he made the Face look more like Jesus I'd have given him an 8.

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