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Human Face Chiseled on Cydonia, Mars: Fact or Fantasy?

Updated on November 13, 2012
"The Face on Mars" from Viking frame 35A72
"The Face on Mars" from Viking frame 35A72 | Source

In 1976 NASA’s Viking orbiter was circling Mars when it sent an unusual image to Earth. The picture, which is shown to the right, seems to show a human face in the Cydonia region of Mars -- a region that's visible from Earth with powerful telescopes. The item in question is approximately a mile wide.

Is the image just a trick of light and shadow, geological chance, or hard evidence of intelligent life having spent time on Mars? This article is a serious and open-minded attempt to answer that question.

"The Face on Mars" from Viking frame 70A13
"The Face on Mars" from Viking frame 70A13 | Source

A Trick of Light and Shadow?

When NASA received the above image, Viking's lead scientist Gerry Soffen described "the face" as an optical illusion, a trick of light and shadow. Like many other scientists, he found it implausible that intelligent life on Mars had chiseled a human face to look toward the sky.

However, Viking sent a second image of "the face" on Cydonia several weeks later. This time, the structure was captured from another angle but still appeared remarkably humanoid. This second image wasn't noticed until 1980 when two NASA computer engineers, Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar, were searching the Viking archives.

Both images are admittedly quite blurry; the resolutions shown here are supposedly the highest available. Many scientists -- and many pseudoscientists -- have been inspired to enhance the images to learn more.

A local contrast stretch of Viking frame 70A13
A local contrast stretch of Viking frame 70A13 | Source

Early Enhanced Images of Cydonia

In 1987 a professional image analyst adjusted the second Viking image. Dr. Mark Carlotto of The Analytical Sciences Corporation created a "local contrast stretch" of frame 70A13. Basically, a local contrast stretch counters under-exposure and over-exposure.

Carlotto's rendition of 70A13 is shown to the right. It seems to reveal additional details of "the face," including teeth, symmetrical eyes and a symmetrical mouth.

An example of local contrast stretching
An example of local contrast stretching | Source

The Next Round of Cydonia Image Enhancements

Carlotto's technique of image enhancement, in my opinion, does not stray into pseudoscience or crackpot territory. Local contrast stretching is a common practice among photographers. An example of local contrast stretching performed on a landscape from Earth is shown to the right.

The next round of Cydonia image enhancements invites more skepticism. In fact, the new pictures might be considered manipulations instead of enhancements. Richard Hoagland, an independent researcher and now the co-author of Dark Mission: The Secret History of NASA , split Carlottos' image down the middle and created two mirror images. This yielded an image of a human-feline hybrid. In Hoagland's view, the left side of the image shows a human headdress, eye, nose and mouth while the right side shows feline characteristics including a mane, an eye and a muzzle.

Hoagland's mirror images of the Cydonia "face"
Hoagland's mirror images of the Cydonia "face"
A 1976 image of Cydonia that possibly includes pyramids (e.g., in the bottom right corner)
A 1976 image of Cydonia that possibly includes pyramids (e.g., in the bottom right corner) | Source
An artist's rendition of the City at Cydonia, 1996 (Click to enlarge)
An artist's rendition of the City at Cydonia, 1996 (Click to enlarge)

The Cat Connection

Why would intelligent life have created a human-cat sculpture on Mars? Hoagland and his followers noted that "the face" was in close proximity to a number of pyramids reminiscent of those in Egypt. And... the ancient Egyptians worshiped cats. Bastet, for example, was considered a feline goddess since at least the Second Dynasty (2890 to 2686 BC).

With huge pyramids and respect for cats being found on two planets, a person can jump to many conclusions. Were the Egyptians visited by extraterrestrials? Were the Egyptian pyramids constructed with alien assistance?

NASA gave little credence to Hoagland's work. In fact, scientists joked that if aliens were truly going to construct a face on Mars, they'd have used Elvis as a model.

Carlotto and others, however, were intrigued by Hoagland's pictures and used them to create additional images. The face on Mars became better known in popular culture. NASA scientists ultimately decided that they owed it to taxpayers to capture better pictures of Cydonia during the next voyage to Mars. A Mars surveyor returned to the region in 1998.

"The Face" looking less face-like in 2001
"The Face" looking less face-like in 2001 | Source

NASA Returns to Mars

NASA's Mars Global Surveyor photographed Cydonia in 1998 and 2001. The resolution of the new photos is ten times greater than that of the 1976 images. To the disappointment -- or relief -- of millions, "the face" and nearby pyramids no longer appear to be artificial constructions.

Additionally, a recent video released on YouTube (embedded below) depicts a 3D fly-by of the area. Cydonia seems to have lost its magic.

Images of "The Face" over time
Images of "The Face" over time | Source

A 3D Video of "The Face"

A NASA Cover-Up?

Skeptics assert that NASA's newest images are doctored or perhaps show an entirely different region of Mars. Why would NASA, an agency of the US government, be interested in censorship? For one thing, evidence of extraterrestrial life -- whether human or Martian -- would present an immediate challenge to Christianity and other major religions. It would also incite fear of an alien takeover. As Stephen Hawking notes in the video below, we have no reason to expect that aliens would be well-meaning; they might destroy humankind just as European explorers destroyed Native Americans.

What do you think about the face on Mars? Add your comment below.


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    • Alexander Mark profile image

      Alexander Silvius 

      7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Finally, the real picture is revealed! I always wondered what the conclusion was and the final picture does show an interesting set of formations. I have to say the picture that looks like a cat, looks more like an insect face to me.

      Actually, the fly-by video makes the formation look like that pagan statuette in the movie the 13th Warrior of a headless very well developed woman with a large belly. So I think we can safely assume that the wyrm people the Vikings fought against were actually from Mars. It's all making sense now...

      Fun hub - and I think the formation is still interesting, it looks like part of it is affected by erosion (or ground movement) and it looks like it should be symmetrical - plus the entire thing is within a rectangular shape, so perhaps there is a greater mystery here ;-)

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 

      7 years ago from Northern California

      Darwin revealed in a sawed-off tree branch.

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 

      7 years ago from Australia

      That's very interesting Larry - and something I have not heard about. Thanks!

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 

      7 years ago from Northern California

      Manna, even more remarkable than that, some people see and photograph images of Darwin in Nature. If you google on Darwin, you can see pictures of him as a younger man, as well as in his golden years. And they match up reasonably well with the natural images on tree trunks, etc.

      On the other hand, we have no idea of what JC or his mother looked like--assuming that they really existed.

    • SantaCruz profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Santa Cruz, CA

      Agreed, Manna! I wrote about that in another blog that I posted today about pareidolia.

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Voted up. However, it's just a rock. The real story behind the phenomenon is human psychological. To recognise a face is a hard-wired skill in the human brain, and it's so sensitive that we very often see faces in random arrangements and loose patterns. This is why people 'see' the face of Jesus in burnt toast, wrinkled socks and stains on the wall.

    • Marie Gail profile image

      Marie Gail Stratford 

      7 years ago from Kansas City, MO

      Well, it's an old ponderance, and 12 hours isn't long to come to any sort of a conclusioin. On the other hand, you're in the club of ponderers now. Welcome!

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      7 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I'm with NASA on this one. I want so much to have proof of life on other planets, but this just isn't it. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 

      7 years ago from Northern California

      Voted up and interesting. It would be difficult for NASA to deny the topographical Earth Face in Alberta.


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