Conspiracy theorists have gone into overdrive following the publication of a series of photos in which a Buddha-like rock formation can be seen on the Red Planet.

NASA’s Curiosity rover snapped the pictures on 7 October 2014, and they have sparked wild rumors that intelligent life exists, or existed, on Mars. On the other hand, various publications have refuted the claims, stating that the object is just a rock formation, according to Discovery News.

Is There Really A Buddha Statue On Mars? These Photos Suggest So

“Buddha statue” leads to fresh conspiracy theories

One UFO-hunting website released a statement claiming that NASA is hiding the truth about an advanced Martian civilization, which may have existed before humans walked the Earth.

“I think we have seen this statue before, but never this close up. This is a better view of it and shows a face and head turned to its right, with breasts and a plump stomach, shoulders. Very remarkable detail in this photo,” Scott Waring, who runs a UFO sightings site wrote. “This photo alone should be enough to convince the United Nations that intelligent life once existed on Mars.”

British tabloid The Daily Mirror trumpets the images as “proof” of intelligent life, while other more scientific sources claim it’s just a series of rocks.

Science explains human propensity to see faces and figures

Despite the wild claims, the image has always been available for public viewing, and can still be seen on the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory website. It seems that the explanation for the formation is found closer to home.

Scientists believe that pareidolia is responsible, a phenomenon which makes humans interpret something that is not there. As Livescience explains, some people see faces and human-like figures in inanimate objects, with those that believe in religion and paranormal phenomena more likely to spot non-existent figures compared to skeptics. The conclusion draws on a number of scientific experiments carried out in Finland.

Discovery News space producer Ian O’Neill says that pareidolia is “the same phenomenon that makes some people see the face of Jesus in burnt toast and bunnies in clouds. In the case of Mars, pareidolia makes us see Bigfoot, parrots, flowers and faces in the otherwise barren orange landscape.”

Will we ever find evidence of alien life?

Other familiar-looking rock formations have also been spotted on Mars. An image taking by the Viking 1 prove in 1976 created a furor after observers noticed what looked like a human face in the Martian region of Cydonia, but it turned out that the formation was created by light and shadows.

More recently, Mars observers spotted a pyramid on the surface of the Red Planet. Scientists later revealed that the supposed pyramid was in fact a Martian rock which measured just 4 inches in height.

Aside from the Martian conspiracy theories, NASA has also revealed some exciting news of late. Those who prefer to trust in science will be more excited by the revelation that liquid water periodically flows on the surface of the Red Planet, which raises the possibility of life.

Additionally the space agency told the world about a strange glint of light from a star 1,480 light-years away. There is a slight chance that the light could suggest the presence of alien megastructures.

Many are confused by the fact that humans have not found evidence of alien life yet, and it may only be a matter of time before we find the evidence that so many conspiracy theorists find in piles of rocks.