≡ Menu

Extreme Close-Up of the Face on Mars

The 'face' on Mars, a popular landform in Cydonia Region on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Here’s a picture you probably won’t see in the tabloid racks while waiting in line at the grocery store. This is the famous “Face on Mars,” and is the closest image ever of this landform, taken by the best Mars camera ever, HiRISE on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. And it certainly looks like …. the top of mesa, which is exactly what it is. This feature in the Cydonia region of Mars is most likely a lava dome that has created an isolated mesa or butte-like structure, i.e., a hill. Compare this image to the original image from the Viking orbiter from 1976 image, below, which created such a furor, including a whole new culture of conspiracy theories, books, late-night radio talk show discussion and even a full-length feature film. Alas, its just a hill.

Original 1976 'Face on Mar' image from the Viking Orbiter. Credit: NASA

Viking had much lower spatial resolution than HiRISE, and a different lighting geometry, which made it look like a face. Yes, it does look like a face in this image. But things aren’t always as they appear, especially in low resolution and bad light. These newer and better images, starting with the Mars Orbiter Camera on the Mars Global Surveyor (which took images of the Cydonia region in 1998 and 2001) and now HiRISE — which shows incredible detail from 300 kilometers above the surface — have certainly set the record straight. Unfortunately, some people still cling to the notion of a face on Mars.

Side by side: a Viking 1 photo from 1976, a Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) image from 1998, and an MGS image from 2001. Credit: NASA

Here’s another look at the ‘face,’ a 3D perspective view of the Face on Mars landform, created from an image from MOC, which shows a side view of the feature,

3D persepective view. Credit: NASA/Jim Garvin (NASA) and Jim Frawley (Herring Bay Geophysics).

Here’s the HiRISE image in black and white:

HiRISE image from 2007 of the 'face' on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

And here’s one of my favorites. Jim Garvin, currently the chief scientist of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center created a potential hiking map of the “face,” with a great description: “Hike length is approximately 5.5 km or 3.6 miles one way, with a total elevation gain of nearly a thousand feet. Rating…. easy at start and midsection, with some very steep sections. Take plenty of water and oxygen.”

Potential hiking map of the mesa, previously known as the Face on Mars. Credit: NASA/Jim Garvin

And still, if you need more convincing, here’s an animation created from actual images of the ‘face’ by ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft which provides a full trip around the hill.

For more, including high-res versions of the color image on top and a “Hi-Flyer” of the image, check out this page on the HiRISE website.

Sources: HiRISE, Science@NASA, ESA


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • E Soliz August 2, 2010, 9:05 AM

    Examine closely and compare the 1976 photo with the 1998 and 2001 photos. Many of the formations that give the significant characteristics are not in the same positions in the three photos. The mouth, eyes and chin are in relatively different positions. I can accept that the shadows can change because of lighting conditions, but the land formations causing the shadows wouldn’t move to different positions over 25 years–shifts of many miles. The mouth in ’76 photo is more verically centered than the ’98 photo and the ’01 photo doesn’t even have a mouth. What happened to the eyes in the ’98 and ’01 photos? The formation bottom in the ’76 photo is relatively straight, in the ’98 photo the bottom is clearly curved. I could point out many other inconsistencies but you get the point. The average citizen has no way of validating information from NASA–we all know the power of Photoshop. Governments around the world are admitting they have been covering-up/misinforming about unexplained phenomenon. Do you really think NASA is any different?

  • tesla333 August 3, 2010, 7:25 AM

    First, the latest photo is the worst quality I’ve ever seen from NASA, why are we looking at a ‘black’ photo? Forget Hoagland’s Sci-Fi mythology for a moment, the original premise was simple: given the shape of the ‘frame’ around the ‘face’ (which is clearly the shape of a ‘shield’ in ALL photos), the positioning of the ‘facial features’, etc. Could this be a ‘remnant’ of a sculpted humanoid face? I don’t think any of the photos, new or old, have yet settled or even address the question, realistically. If there ever was a ‘life-supporting’ environment on Mars, which we are still learning about, it would have been hundreds of thousands of years ago, at least. Given that time-frame wouldn’t there be significant erosion of the mesa during that period – regardless of what it started out as. If we had some info on the erosion patterns on Mars in that area and detailed data on the mesa itself, would it be possible to create a program that would ‘re-build’ the mesa over time, say at 100k year intervals. Then we might see what it looked like a million years ago. Wouldn’t this be prudent given the significance if it was built by others? Just curious! Wouldn’t it be better to apply some realistic tests rather than, either inventing fictional stories or just calling it silly. Why the extreme views – we don’t actually know what it was. It could turn out that seeing the ‘face’ in the lo-res ’76 photo was just a lucky break that led us to do some more detailed — real analysis of what actually was a sculpted face, or it could have been just and ‘optical illusion’ as NASA would have us believe.

  • rulerofthisuniverse August 3, 2010, 6:08 PM

    LOL once again you have all been duped by the media and those clever telescope people.

    Don’t believe a word anybody tells you unless you can verify it with your own research.

    Shall we see what we are really seeing in these new images?

    lets compare, look at these 2 pictures side by side:
    1. http://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/face-on-mars-close-up.jpg
    2. http://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/trailmap.gif

    Can you see how they have conned you yet?????

    What you are seeing in the NEW pic is ONLY the bottom right corner of the so called face, which just happens to be one of the most eroded parts.


    By the way I don’t actually think there is a face up there, but I don’t like being told lies by the media.