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Part of the Cydonia region, taken by the Viking 1 orbiter and released by NASA/JPL on July 25, 1976 (north is to the upper right). The famous 'Face on Mars' is near the center of the top.

Cydonia is a region of Mars containing several hills, which has attracted attention because one of the hills resembles a face, while others resemble pyramids; a phenomena which has attracted both scientific[1] and popular interest.[2][3] The name originally referred to an albedo feature (distinctively coloured area) that was visible from earthbound telescopes. Today, the name covers three named regions on Mars: "Cydonia Mensae", an area of flat-topped mesa-like features, "Cydonia Colles", a region of small hills or knobs, and "Cydonia Labyrinthus", a complex of intersecting valleys.[4][5] As with other albedo features on Mars, the name Cydonia was drawn from classical antiquity, in this case from Kydonia, a historic polis (or "city-state") on the island of Crete.[6]



Cydonia lies in the planet's northern hemisphere in a transitional zone between the heavily cratered regions to the South, and relatively smooth plains to the North. Some planetologists believe that the northern plains may once have been ocean beds[7] and that Cydonia may have been a coastal zone (though this is still uncertain).[8]


Cropped version of the original batch-processed image (#35A72) of the "Face on Mars". The black dots that give the image a speckled appearance are data errors.

Cydonia was first imaged in detail by the Viking 1 and Viking 2 orbiters. Eighteen images of the Cydonia region were taken by the orbiters, of which seven have resolutions better than 250 m/pixel (820 ft/pixel). The other eleven images have resolutions worse than 550 m/pixel (1800 ft/pixel) and are virtually useless for studying surface features. Of the seven good images, the lighting and time at which two pairs of images were taken are so close as to reduce the number to five distinct images. The Mission to Mars: Viking Orbiter Images of Mars CD-ROM image numbers for these are: 35A72 (VO-1010), 70A13 (VO-1011), 561A25 (VO-1021), 673B56 & 673B54 (VO-1063), and 753A33 & 753A34 (VO-1028).[9]

Parts of the region were subsequently imaged at far higher resolution by the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions.

"Face on Mars" and "pyramids"

The second 1976 Viking image (left, image #70A13) compared with the 2001 Mars Global Surveyor image (right). 20 meters per pixel resolution.

In one of the images taken by Viking 1 on July 25, 1976, a 2 km (1.2 miles) long Cydonian mesa, situated at 40.75° north latitude and 9.46° west longitude,[10] had the appearance of a humanoid "Face on Mars". When the image was originally acquired, Viking chief scientist Gerry Soffen dismissed the "face" in image 35A72[11] as a "[trick] of light and shadow".[12][13] However, a second image, 70A13, also shows the "Face" and was acquired 35 Viking orbits later at a different "sun-angle" from the 35A72 image. This latter discovery was made independently by two computer engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar,[14] who discovered the two misfiled images, Viking frames 35A72 and 70A13, while searching through NASA archives.

The occurrence of an object on Mars with a seemingly human face caught the attention of individuals and organizations interested in extraterrestrial intelligence and visitations to Earth, and the images were published in this context in 1977.[15][16] Some commentators, most notably Richard Hoagland, believe the "Face" to be evidence of a long-lost Martian civilization along with other features they believe are present, such as apparent pyramids, which they argue are part of a ruined city. Image analysis of the original Viking images led a few researchers to suggest that the features of the "Face" might not be an accidental consequence of viewing conditions.[1] While accepting the "Face" as a subject for scientific study, astronomer Carl Sagan criticized much of the speculation concerning it in an eponymous chapter of his book The Demon-Haunted World.[17][18]


Subsequent imagery

High resolution Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image of the "Face on Mars". Taken using the onboard HiRISE camera.
Pyramid-like structure informally known as the "D & M pyramid" (after Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar).[19][20]

More than 20 years after the Viking 1 images were taken, a succession of spacecraft visited Mars and collected new data from the Cydonia region. These spacecraft have included NASA's Mars Global Surveyor (1997-2006)[21] and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2006-),[22] and the European Space Agency's Mars Express probe (2003-).[23] In contrast to the relatively low resolution of the Viking images of Cydonia, these new platforms afford much improved resolution. For instance, the Mars Express images are at a resolution of 14 m/pixel (46 ft/pixel) or better. By combining data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on the Mars Express probe and the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) on board NASA's Mars Global Surveyor it has been possible to create a 3D representation of the "Face on Mars".[21]

Today, the "Face" is generally accepted to be an optical illusion, an example of pareidolia.[24] After analysis of the higher resolution Mars Global Surveyor data NASA stated that "a detailed analysis of multiple images of this feature reveals a natural looking Martian hill whose illusory face-like appearance depends on the viewing angle and angle of illumination".[25] Similar optical illusions can be found in the geology of Earth[26]; examples include the Old Man of the Mountain, the Pedra da Gávea, the Old Man of Hoy and the Badlands Guardian, which resembles a human head wearing a Native American headdress.[27]

In popular culture

Aside from speculation concerning their artificial origins, Cydonia and the "Face on Mars" also appear frequently in popular culture, including feature films, television series, videogames, comic books, and even music.[28]

See also


  1. ^ a b Carlotto, M. J. (1988) Digital Imagery Analysis of Unusual Martian Surface Features. Applied Optics 27, 1926-1933.
  2. ^ Whitehouse, D. (2001-05-25). "Nasa: No face - honest". BBC. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  3. ^ Britt, R.R. (2006-09-22). "Face on Mars gets makeover". CNN. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  4. ^ United States Geological Survey Astrogeology Program, Gazeteer of Planetary Nomenclature, "Mars Nomenclature".
  5. ^ United States Geological Survey Astrogeology Program, Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, "Descriptor Terms (Feature Types)".
  6. ^ MacDonald, T.L. (1971). "The origins of Martian nomenclature". Icarus 15: 233–240. doi:10.1016/0019-1035(71)90077-7. 
  7. ^ Head, J.W., Kreslavsky, M., Hiesinger, H., Ivanov, M., Pratt, S., Seibert, N., Smith, D.E. and Zuber, M.T. (1998). Oceans in the past history of Mars: Tests for their presence using Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) data. Geophysical Research Letters 25, 4401-4404.
  8. ^ Malin, M. C. and Edgett, K. S. (1999). Oceans or seas in the Martian northern lowlands: High resolution imaging tests of proposed coastlines. Geophysical Research Letters 26, 3049-3052.
  9. ^ Mission to Mars: Viking Orbiter Images of Mars website, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory; raw data in IMQ (ImageQ) format can be downloaded from these links: 35A72, 70A13, 561A25, 673B56, 673B54, 753A33, 753A34. Retrieved on 20 September 2007.
  10. ^ Rayl, A.J.S. (2007-03-16). "The Empire Strikes Back: Europe's First Trip to Mars Brings Home "The Gold"". Planetary Society. Retrieved 2008-06-05. 
  11. ^ Viking News Center (1976-07-31). "Caption of JPL Viking Press Release P-17384 (35A72)". NASA. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  12. ^ Hoagland, Richard (1996). The Monuments of Mars — A City on the Edge of Forever (4th ed.). Frog Books. p. 5. ISBN 1883319307. 
  13. ^ "Pixel Inversion - NASA's Misinformation on the Mars Face". Paranormal News. 1999-08-25. Retrieved 2008-05-29. 
  14. ^ Gardner, M. (1985). "The Great Stone Face and Other Nonmysteries" (). Skeptical Inquirer 10: 14–18. 
  15. ^ Smukler, H. (1977). "Dramatic Photos of Mars: the Home of the Gods". Ancient Astronauts (January): 26. 
  16. ^ Richard Grossinger, ed (1986). Planetary Mysteries: Megaliths, Glaciers, the Face on Mars and Aboriginal Dreamtime. Berkeley, California, USA: North Atlantic Books. p. 11. ISBN 0938190903. Retrieved 2008-08-12. 
  17. ^ Sagan, Carl (1996). The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark. Random House. ISBN 0-394-53512-X. 
  18. ^ McDaniel, Stanley (1998). The Case for the Face: Scientists Examine The Evidence for Alien Artifacts on Mars. Adventure Unlimited Press. ISBN 0-932813-59-3. 
  19. ^ "Cydonia: Two Years Later". Malin Space Science Systems. 5 April 2000. Retrieved 1 December 2008. 
  20. ^ Fitzpatrick-Matthews, K. (17 August 2007). "The ‘D&M Pyramid’". Bad Archaeology. Retrieved 1 December 2008. 
  21. ^ a b "Cydonia's 'Face on Mars' in 3D animation using Mars Global Surveyor imagery". ESA website. 2006-10-23. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  22. ^ "Popular Landform in Cydonia Region". HiRISE website. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  23. ^ "Cydonia - the face on Mars, 3D rendering of Mars Express imagery". ESA website. 2006-09-21. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  24. ^ Britt, R.R. (2004-03-18). "Scientist attacks alien claims on Mars". CNN. Retrieved 2007-10-12. 
  25. ^ "The Face on Mars, Viking Project". NASA website. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  26. ^ Dunning, B. (2008-04-22). "The Face on Mars Revealed". Skeptoid #97. Retrieved 2008-08-26. 
  27. ^ "Badlands Guardian Geological Feature". Google Maps.,-110.113006&spn=0.009363,0.020084&t=k&iwloc=addr. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  28. ^ For example: Film - Mission to Mars (2000); TV series - The X-Files ("Space", 1993), Futurama ("Where The Buggalo Roam", 2002); Videogames - Zak McKracken (1988), X-COM: UFO Defense (1993); Comic books - Martian Manhunter #1 (1998); Music - Telemetry of a Fallen Angel by The Crüxshadows (1995), "Knights of Cydonia" by Muse (2006), "Hunting and Gathering (Cydonia)" by Sunn O))) (2009).

External links

Face on Mars" as artifact


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