Face on Mars FAQs

Mark Carlotto

What is the Face on Mars? A mile long formation on the surface of Mars in the Cydonia region that resembles a humanoid face. Most planetary scientists believe the Face is a natural geological formation, not unlike others in the Cydonia region of Mars, that appears face-like under certain lighting conditions. Those advancing the hypothesis that it may be artificial have hypothesized that it could have been sculpted from a pre-existing landform.

When was the Face first discovered and why was it not investigated further by NASA? It was first imaged by a Viking Orbiter spacecraft in July 1976, and then a second time about a month later. Inexplicably the feature was dismissed as a optical illusion by JPL and not pursued further. Several years later the second image, which JPL claimed showed nothing unusual, was found by two NASA subcontractors, Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar. Although this image corroborated the facial features seen in the original image JPL continued to maintain the Face was an optical illusion.

How many times has the Face been imaged by NASA? Although it was imaged many times by Viking only two higher resolution pictures (about 50 meters/pixel) were obtained. Both show the Face illuminated from the west (left side) with the east side in shadow. Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) imaged the Face at a much higher resolution (about 4 meters/pixel) in April 1998. Because MGS was about 45 degrees off angle looking east, only the west side could be seen. The newest image acquired by MGS in April 2001 is the only high resolution image showing the entire Face in full illumination.

So, is the Face an optical illusion? Using the two Viking images Mark Carlotto in 1988 constructed a 3-D model of the Face and used it to show (by means of computer simulations) that the impression of a face persist over a wide range of lighting conditions and imaging geometries and so cannot not be an optical illusion.

What other characteristics support the hypothesis that the Face is artificial? The Face is rendered in 3-D; i.e., it is not merely a profile like New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain which only looks like a face from one spot on the ground. The Face is not a cartoon-like representation of a face (like NASA's Smiley Face Crater)—it is highly symmetrical, well-proportioned (artistically and anthropologically), and is highly non-fractal and possibly non-natural in structure.

What are fractals and how have they been used to analyze the Viking imagery of the Face?A fractal is a mathematical concept to describe objects that are self-similar. Like a coastline, a part of a fractal resembles the whole fractal. Fractal analysis can be used to find non-fractal (man-made) objects in terrestrial satellite imagery. When applied to the Viking images the Face was found to be the least fractal (least natural) object over an extended area.

Are there other unusual features on Mars? Other objects have been found in Cydonia and elsewhere. There are a number of unusual features (some of which resemble pyramids) in the immediate vicinity of the Face. One group discovered by Richard Hoagland appears to be aligned in the same general direction as the Face.

How do these features on Mars compare with similar features on Earth? The objects in Cydonia are about ten times larger than the pyramids in Giza. One known as the D&M Pyramid is same size as the White Pyramid in Xi-An province in China. The layout of these objects in Cydonia is similar to that of Mesoamerican sites like Teotihuacan.

What did the April 1998 Mars Global Surveyor images reveal about the Face? Analysis of the April 1998 image of the Face confirmed the presence of many of the features first seen in the Viking data. It also showed the overall structure of the object to be highly symmetrical. Being much higher in resolution than Viking (4 meter/pixel vs. 50 meters/pixel), MGS revealed the Face to be much more eroded than originally thought.

What about the other nearby features? MGS images have shown all of these features in Cydonia to be highly eroded. No obvious indications of artificiality (e.g., roads, vehicles, buildings, etc.) are evident.

What does NASA say about the Face based on their new April 2001 image? NASA continues to maintain the Face is natural based on its highly eroded condition and the apparent lack of facial features on the right side. In short, they state the Face cannot be a face and thus cannot be artificial because it doesn't look like a face.

So have the Face and other features been proven to be natural? No. Given the highly eroded state of these objects it is likely than any indications of artificiality will be exceedingly subtle. For example in aerial images of archaeological sites it can be difficult to distinguish manmade structures in a state of decay from natural background features. To expect otherwise on a planet with a dynamic environment like Mars does not make sense.

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