The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Face on Mars

Original Viking photo of the 'Face on Mars'
Original Viking photo of the 'Face on Mars'

The Face on Mars is a large feature on the surface of the planet Mars located in the Cydonia region. It measures approximately 3 km long and 1.5 km across and lies some 10 degrees North of the Martian equator. It was first photographed on July 25, 1976 by the Viking 1 space probe orbiting the planet at the time. It was brought to the attention of the public in a NASA press release of the photo six days later.

Most interpretations of the photo suggest that the feature is a natural landform, one of many mesas that scatter Cydonia. In this view of things, the appearance of a face is given by a combination of the angle of the lighting (with the sun low on the Martian horizon at the time the photo was taken), the low resolution of the photo tending to smooth out the irregularities of the surface, and the human brain's tendency to recognise familiar patterns, especially faces (pareidolia). Finally, a gap in the data sent back by Viking 1 created a black spot exactly where a nostril would be located on a human face. Many other such spots are visible in the photo.

This interpretation is supported by later photographic evidence from the Mars Global Surveyor probe in 1998 and 2001 and the Mars Odyssey probe in 2002. Photographed under completely different lighting and at much higher resolution, the feature looks very little like a face, although conspiracy theorists claim that the images have been altered.

Another interpretation of the photo is that it represents an artificial monument of some kind, and some have claimed that its existence is proof that intelligent extraterrestrials inhabited or visited Mars at some point in the distant past. The most notable advocate of this theory is Richard Hoagland, as seen in the Message of Cydonia . In his 1987 book The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever, Hoagland interpreted other nearby surface features as remnants of a ruined city and artificially-constructed pyramids. The publication of this book has done much to encourage and popularise belief in the artificial nature of the face.

Mars Global Surveyor's 1998 image of the 'face'
Mars Global Surveyor's 1998 image of the 'face'

Landscapes on earth can also be interpeted as showing a face. This picture [1] of Mount St. Helens taken from the ISS seems to show an upside-down portrait of Richard Nixon.

Original caption

The original caption for the photograph read as follows:

This picture is one of many taken in the northern latitudes of Mars by the Viking 1 Orbiter in search of a landing site for Viking 2.
The picture shows eroded mesa-like landforms. The huge rock formation in the center, which resembles a human head, is formed by shadows giving the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth. The feature is 1.5 kilometers (one mile) across, with the sun angle at approximately 20 degrees. The speckled appearance of the image is due to bit errors, emphasized by enlargement of the photo. The picture was taken on July 25 from a range of 1873 kilometers (1162 miles). Viking 2 will arrive in Mars orbit next Saturday (August 7) with a landing scheduled for early September. [2]

See also: Life on Mars

External links

Last updated: 08-30-2005 13:14:20
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46