Where on Mars
The Face is a large mountain or mesa in the Cydonia region of Mars. It is located at around the 40.8° N, 9.6° W, that’s 40.8°N of the Martian equator. Approximately 3 km long and 1.5 km wide the face was first photographed on July 25, 1976, when the Viking 1 space probe was in orbit taking pictures. The Viking 1 was snapping photos of possible landing sites for its companion ship, Viking 2 when it shot what appeared to be a giant head.
The Viking spacecraft beamed the potential landing sites back to earth where NASA planners pored over the images to find a landing spot. When NASA scientists first saw the head the facial features were thought of as a neat coincidence. The decision was made to release the image in the hopes of spurring the public’s interest in Mars and space exploration in general.
Caption of JPL Viking Press Release P-17384 NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION VIKING NEWS CENTER PASADENA, CALIFORNIA (213) 354-6000 Viking 1-61
July 31, 1976
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. It 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.
Cydonia, the area of Mars where the face is located is covered with mesas that rise high in the air, the surrounding areas having been eroded by the thin Martian air, and possibly water, over billions of years. NASA Scientists saw the image as a simply a large mountain similar to mesa’s found in Arizona deserts. The low image resolution of Viking camera made the “face’s” features appear smoother than what they would be in real life. Plus the shadows give the perception of facial features. After all the brain is trained to find patterns, especially faces, in the things we see around us which is why we see things in clouds or the man on the moon. This brain’s function even has a name: pareidolia (payr.eye.DOH.lee.uh) n. The erroneous or fanciful perception of a pattern or meaning in something that is actually ambiguous or random. Finally, as talked about in the NASA caption, a bit error or a part of the image was lost in transmission appeared right where a nostril would be on a humanoid head. It is these lost “dots” or “bit errors” that give the original image a spotty appearance.
Face becomes famous
When the image was released it captured some attention but it wasn’t until the face was re-discovered three years later that it really captured the public’s imagination. Computer engineers Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar, under contract at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, had been intrigued by the face and another nearby structure shaped like a pyramid, now called the D&M pyramid after its two discoverers. Poring over NASA picture archives they found 10 images taken of the face and surrounding area but only 2 where high-resolution of the face. Using a new software they had developed called SPIT (Starburst Pixel Interleave Technique) they were able to digitally enhance the images. The results of enhanced images appeared to reveal more detail of the face including, “mouth, teeth, eye sockets, eyeball and pupil, and hairline or headress, and the FACE appears to be bysymmetrical.”
The Monuments of Mars
Some of the "Monuments of Mars" see the so-called pyramid in the bottom right hand corner.
By this time public interest in the face and the potential of a lost civilization on Mars exploded. A cottage industry of books, conventions, science fiction plots about the Face on Mars quickly sprung up seemingly lead by Richard Hoagland. In his book The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever he talks about the face and other surrounding formations that he and others have deemed evidence of a lost civilization. Included in these other “structures” are a pyramid, fortress, ruins of a city, and much more. Fringe groups who have thought that the pyramids of Egypt and South America were either inspired by or actually built by Aliens quickly pounced on the pyramid civilization on Mars theory as proof that Aliens have visited both planets.
Aerial images of the pyramid do look similar to the shots of the supposed pyramid on Mars. However, if the Face on Mars was an artificial structure why does it look straight up? The face itself is huge if you were to stand on the ground surrounding the structure you would have trouble making out the features so why would a civilization spend vast amounts of energy building something that they couldn’t even enjoy? Past civilizations on Earth have always built great monuments like this in a standing or upright sitting position i.e. Sphinx so that they could be viewed by worshippers/subjects on the ground.
While Hoagland and his fellow band of believers were working themselves into a fevered pitch pointing out new artificial landmarks on the Martian landscape NASA was preparing to the next Mars visitor. The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) began orbiting Mars on September 12, 1997, and much to the shock of the proponents of an artificial life on Mars NASA did not first go to Cydonia to re-map the Face of Mars. NASA scientists refused to acknowledge that the Face of Mars be a priority and stated something to the effect of, we’ll get around to it eventually. The public outcry was so great to revisit the Cydonia region that NASA was forced to change its timetable and agreed to re-photograph the Face of Mars and surrounding formations as soon as possible.
|Picture Taken On:
July 25, 1976 as the Viking 1 space probe orbited Mars
40.8° N, 9.6° W Mars
|Behind the Camera:
Viking I space probe
A mountain formation on Mars that looks like a face.
| This image is in the public domain because it was taken by NASA