Scientists Say: Pareidolia | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Pareidolia

There’s a word for when you think you see Katy Perry in your toast
Feb 23, 2015 — 9:00 am EST
Smiley space

This photo of two galaxies has a light distortion. The curves lead us to see a smiley face where there really isn’t one.

NASA & ESA

Pareidolia (noun, “Pear-eye-DOH-lee-ah”)

When we imagine a pattern or meaning where none really exists. Some people see a face when they look at the moon. But the craters are randomly placed. The “man in the moon” that people see is the result of pareidolia.

In a sentence

Recently, the Hubble Space Telescope took a photo of two bright galaxies. The light around the galaxies distorted into a curve in just the right place. Instead of two galaxies and a light distortion, we saw a smiley face, which was the effect of pareidolia.

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Power Words

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galaxy  A massive group of stars bound together by gravity. Galaxies, which each typically include between 10 million and 100 trillion stars, also include clouds of gas, dust and the remnants of exploded stars.

pareidolia  Perceiving a meaning or a pattern where it does not exist, as when people see a “man in the moon.”