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

Extreme Close-Up of the Face on Mars

Article Updated: 25 Jul , 2016
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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 at the time the picture was taken, 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

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23 Responses

  1. tacitus says:

    You know what they always say…

    Nobody looks good in extreme close-up.

  2. tacitus says:

    Hoagland’s moved on anyway, pushing his “Phobos is a spaceship” nonsense now.

    But now that we’re only a few months away from Vesta (Dawn), I’m willing to bet that, on arrival, someone will suddenly discover remarkable evidence that Vesta is also a spacecraft of some kind — perhaps even the Golgafrincham B Ark. (and I can’t believe that I spelled that right first time!)

  3. Aqua says:

    An interesting feature anyway, even if its NOT what the tabloids propped it up to be! Preying on the under informed IS somewhat a national sport here in Amerika? There are FAR too many examples to even begin listing here…

    As you probably know(?), NASA just released the biggest, most detailed map ever of Mars from the Mars Odyssey mission a couple days ago.

    http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2010/jul/HQ_10-176_Mars_Odyssey_Map.html

    I think I’ll check out Cydonia Mensa from that perspective, just for grins…

  4. Trippy says:

    Anyone else notice how the hike map takes you up one of the ‘faces’ ‘nostrils’?

  5. qraal says:

    Looks so artificial… just like Uluru or the Devil’s Marbles or 12 Apostles… you get the idea.

  6. Emilio says:

    The first image confused me a little. I just couldn’t see where the mesa feature started and ended. Typically if a mesa gets some type of frost, it forms at higher elevation. But the image shows frost on one half of mesa. Hummm, this image is made up man.

  7. avar says:

    Since we now have a detailed 3d model of the mesa, hasn’t anyone tried rendering it in the same lighting conditions that existed when the Viking Orbiter imaged it in 1976?

  8. Astrofiend says:

    Strikingly beautiful feature.

    And nice to hear the latest on Hoagland Tacitus. It always amuses me to hear the latest and greatest wackjob theories.

  9. DrNothing says:

    Honestly, all Hoagland has to do is run the image through a plethora of Photoshop filters while self-medicating with whatever he uses and voila!… it will suddenly be apparent that the Mars face is an exactly sculpted Dobbshead, left aeons ago by the still-not-arriving-on-July-4ths, X-ists…

  10. papayaman says:

    Seeing a face in an outcropping of rocks on Mars is like when people see an outline of a lady in tree sap, and they construe this as a picture of the Virgin Mary. Our minds are hard wired to recognize familiar patterns in random configurations of natural occurrences. That’s OK. The next step is proper attribution.

  11. Tony Trenton says:

    PAPAYAMAN is correct and in perspective

    Our brains are designed to look for faces. This is a human characteristic.

  12. Prime says:

    Perhaps the natural face technology of humans was used, by the ancientMartians to lure us into the unknown, there.

    Let’s see what the pyramids, nerby, look like, and if the camera can read hieroglyphics

  13. Olaf says:

    It would be interesting to actually get the elevation data usefull for 3D modelling.

  14. BigFuzzyOne says:

    It’s obvious. The government tried to destroy the face wit a nuke after the Viking photo was released. All that will do is make the race of aliens that carved it angry and they will try to destroy us now. THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE AND IT WILL KILL US ALL. Just saying.

  15. Astrofiend says:

    Olaf
    July 29th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    It would be interesting to actually get the elevation data usefull for 3D modelling.

    I’m pretty sure that I have seen elevation data for the ‘face’ somewhere or other…

  16. malefactor says:

    And…? If you ask me this article is a bit pointless. Everyone knows that it is just a rock. The point is that its fun to conjecture about a Martian made structure corroded with time!

  17. Jon Hanford says:

    “It would be interesting to actually get the elevation data usefull for 3D modelling.”

    Something like this: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars_Express/SEMINCO7BTE_0.html ?

  18. Olaf says:

    @Jon Hanford
    Yes that data not the movie.
    I have been googling for it but I do not find it. I would want to experiment with it in a 3D modelling program to see what light cause the face.

    It is a combination of 2 things, the angle of sunlight and the low resolution of the images.

  19. Iron15 says:

    So, these are the pictures that NASA is trying to pass off, OK, remember, with these guys the lie is different at every level, the face the cydonia region is still their always has been always will be no matter how much they(military) NASA photo shop the evidence…As in the days of Noah!!!

  20. nasajudy says:

    I was awed when the original Viking pics were released but technology and snake oil salesmen made me change my mind some time ago. Wayne Herschel is still claiming the mesa is made of blocks.
    Maybe him and Hoagland are having a good laugh somewhere.

    Great new pics BTW.

  21. E Soliz says:

    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?

  22. tesla333 says:

    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.

  23. rulerofthisuniverse says:

    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.

    THE NEW PICTURE PROVES NOTHING

    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.

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