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Facing Facts on Mars!

By Patrick Mondout
  Facts and Figures
Image courtesy of NASA (Viking 35A72)

Image #1: Taken on July 25, 1976 from a range of 1162 miles by the Viking 1 Mars Orbiter in search of a landing site for Viking 2. The "face" is approximately one mile across. The black dots are actually errors in transmission and do not exist on the planet.

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems.

The long awaited high-resolution image of the face. That 5 o'clock shadow (4:34, to be exact) in the original sure had us fooled!
"NASA took the first new pictures of the Face in two decades. The result: it doesn't look like a face anymore."
-Time Magazine, April 20, 1998, p. 71

In 1976, the Viking 1 Mars Orbiter took a picture that later sparked a near two-decade controversy about life on Mars and aliens. The image in question, shown on the right, was properly assessed by scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories as being a trick of light and shadows in a July 1976 press release. A few years later, the image was "rediscovered" and the pseudo-scientists, tabloids, and conspiracy theorists have had a field day with it every since. "Intelligent life on Mars" and "Ancient Aliens Created Face on Mars" read the headlines.

The Face is in a region of the Northern Hemisphere of Mars known as the Cydonia region. Adding fuel to the fire was the close proximately of what (at least in the 1976 images) looked like pyramids (not shown). Could this region have been the place of an ancient civilization? With the right lighting and background music, this image is still spooky.

Fortunately, NASA was able to get better pictures of the "face" with the Mars Global Surveyor Spacecraft in April 1998 as seen in the second image on the right (the two pictures are at different angles but are of the same object). Images from a distance of only 276 miles away and with 10 times the resolution of Viking pictures (4.3 meters per pixel versus 43 meters per pixel) were produced and these images once and for all put an end to debates about this geophysical feature. At least among reasonable people. Some still hold on to their theories and even claim that NASA is part of some conspiracy. Even now there are several web sites which devote themselves to solving this solved mystery. Some people just never learn how to save face.

The Face is not the only interesting feature on Mars. Click here to see the other Face and even a love sign!


Source: NASA.


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