Pareidolia - seeing things that aren't there

Do you suffer from pareidolia?

Nearly everyone sees objects in clouds. Some people see faces in toast. My wife says that, as a child, she used to see teddy bears' faces in knot patterns in her bedroom's wood panelling. Your brain is very good at making out objects in backgrounds, even when the object isn't actually there.

It doesn't have to be images that our brains try to make sense of. Norwegian farmers feared the Fossegrime, a spirit that lived in waterfalls, luring people through sound. In the white noise coming from rushing water, our brains can nearly make out speech. Victims of the Fossegrime, looking for the source, would come nearer and nearer the dangerous waters, eventually to be taken by the malevolent spirit.

The Moon is a fertile source of pareidolic images. A while back I wrote a piece on the "Lunar X" , as well as a few other features. Certainly, everyone has heard of the man in the Moon. That image doesn't stand out quite so much here in the Southern Hemisphere. I think that's because the pattern doesn't leap out when it's seen upside-down. Perhaps it might be different for that other man in the Moon, Mr Squiggle.

Probably my favourite pareidolic image on the Moon is the woman's profile seen on the edge of Mare Imbrium. I'm no selenologist, but you should check this one out if you can. You can see that my scope doesn't have the magnification required to make out much of this.


Nebulas are often given common names from the pareidolic images they suggest. Astronomers have seen any number of things in the swirls of gas and dust that make up nebulas. In my local area alone, there are prawns, lobsters, cats' paws, running chickens, running men, even the face of a poet. Perhaps they've been spending too much time at the eyepiece.

This photo has an image that (in my opinion) really does resemble its namesake. It's NGC 3576, the Statue of Liberty nebula, taken from my back yard during the lockdown. Hint: the real statue is on the left.