Fact Check

'Fish Fossil' Found by NASA's Mars Rover; 'Greatest Discovery' says NASA Scientists

Did Mars rover Curiosity find a fish fossil?

Published Nov 13, 2014


Claim:   NASA's Mars rover Curiosity found a fish fossil near the Windjana drilling target.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, November 2014]

Looking through today's science articles, I came across this one at MSNBC.

As much as I would like this to be true, I find it hard to believe.


Origins:   In November 2014, MSNBC.website published an article titled "'Fish Fossil' Found by NASA's Mars Rover; 'Greatest Discovery' says NASA Scientists." In it, the site claimed images transmitted back from the craft definitively show a clear fish fossil image captured at the Windjana drilling site:

Scientists believe the images, which seem to show the fossilized remains of a fish-like creature, are definitive proof of the Red Planet's supported life from millions of years ago.

NASA officials have named the fish-like fossil, "The Roman Red Fish," after Mars, the Roman god of war and the planet's nickname "Red Planet."

The awesome discovery is the most significant proof of life since the Mars rover's analyzation of rocks back in March that concluded Mars was capable of supporting life in the distant past, according to scientists.

"This is extraordinary news for the scientific community. We've found minute evidence of prior life before but nothing as concrete as this," said Dr. Elle Stafon, NASA's Chief Scientist.

The article quoted "Dr. Elle Stafon" as saying the Mars fish fossil was the "greatest discovery we've ever found." NASA's does have a Chief Scientist named Ellen Stofan, but the discovery to which she was purportedly speaking was totally fabricated, as was the comment attributed to her. The site from which it originated was not (as many were led to believe) MSNBC, but rather "MSNBC.website," a fake news outlet with a deliberately misleading web address.

The image of the "Mars fish fossil" is a doctored version of a real image taken by Curiosity, hosted at NASA's website:

In the original unmanipulated photo, it's clear no fossil is present. MSNBC.website is one of a growing number of fake news websites spreading sensational, made-up stories on social media outlets — including a recent death hoax involving actor Macaulay Culkin.

Last updated:   13 November 2014