Martian Face Turns Out to be a Rocky Mesa

August 2, 2010 by Miranda Marquit, weblog
1976 Viking image. Image source: NASA

( -- In 1976, the Viking spacecraft, flying above Mars, captured an image of what appeard to be a large face on the surface of the planet. The face appeared, to many, as proof that a Martian civilization existed; beings not unlike humans must have populated Mars at one time. The famous "face on Mars" is located in the Cydonia region of Mars.

Technology has advanced a considerable amount since the original photo was taken, though. And now NASA has released a new image of the area -- one that shows quite clearly that what looks like a face in the 1976 image is really just a rocky mesa. offers this explanation for the differences in the two images:

Taken from much nearer to the planet and with a substantially higher resolution camera, the features so distinctive in the original image completely vanish in the new one. The original Viking Orbiter image had much lower spatial resolution and a different lighting geometry, factors that led to the optical illusion.

2007 HiRISE image. Image source: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The latest image was taken with the (HiRISE) camera. The camera is located on the Reconnaissance Orbiter. The Orbiter is a satellite in orbit around Mars, designed to get a good look at the . The resolution offered by these images is much higher than that taken by previous spacecraft. Images have been taken over the years, including in 1998 and 2001. The latest images were taken in 2007.

As technology has improved, though, images show the face becoming blurrier and blurrier. And now, it appears the face on Mars has disappeared altogether.

Explore further: NASA celebrates 30 years of Mars research

More information: "Face on Mars or Rocky Hill? New Photo Reveals Truth," (July 30, 2010). Available online: … cs-famous-face-mars/.

"Extreme Close-Up of the Face on Mars," Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today (July 28, 2010). Available online: … of-the-face-on-mars/

Related Stories

Thousands of New Images Show Mars in High Resolution

September 3, 2009

Thousands of newly released images from more than 1,500 telescopic observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show a wide range of gullies, dunes, craters, geological layering and other features on the Red Planet. ...

Recommended for you

NASA's new mini satellite will study Milky Way's halo

July 18, 2018

Astronomers keep coming up short when they survey "normal" matter, the material that makes up galaxies, stars and planets. A new NASA-sponsored CubeSat mission called HaloSat, deployed from the International Space Station ...

Supersharp images from new VLT adaptive optics

July 18, 2018

ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) has achieved first light with a new adaptive optics mode called laser tomography—and has captured remarkably sharp test images of the planet Neptune and other objects. The MUSE instrument ...

Jupiter's moon count reaches 79, including tiny 'oddball'

July 17, 2018

Twelve new moons orbiting Jupiter have been found—11 "normal" outer moons, and one that they're calling an "oddball." This brings Jupiter's total number of known moons to a whopping 79—the most of any planet in our Solar ...

Astronomers find a famous exoplanet's doppelgänger

July 17, 2018

When it comes to extrasolar planets, appearances can be deceiving. Astronomers have imaged a new planet, and it appears nearly identical to one of the best studied gas-giant planets. But this doppelgänger differs in one ...

Dawn mission to gather more data in home stretch

July 17, 2018

As NASA's Dawn spacecraft prepares to wrap up its groundbreaking 11-year mission, which has included two successful extended missions at Ceres, it will continue to explore—collecting images and other data.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.5 / 5 (17) Aug 02, 2010
The tragic thing is that at this point we are disconnected from personal experience regarding this topic. We have no way of knowing where that picture was taken except what we are being told and expected to believe. We don't know what that area of Mars really looks like unless we can see it through our own home telescopes. Otherwise, we are totally at the mercy of those who tell us they have a probe up there taking pictures, and who wait years before they decide to show us the pictures. IMHO, those who believe what they are told about something they have never seen personally, and have no way to verify independently, deserve the ignorance they find themselves in.
4.6 / 5 (9) Aug 02, 2010
But by the time "normal" people can afford telescopes strong enough to see it, you will just claim that "they" have somehow hidden it. People 300 years from now will be able to pay for tickets to go see that spot, but to no avail because the pilots are part of the conspiracy too.
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 02, 2010
It seems to me that in the newer, higher resolution pic, the area that should have the face is in total darkness... ???
5 / 5 (10) Aug 02, 2010
The European Space Agency's (ESA)'Mars Express' probe photographed the Cydonia region back in 2006 and had also found the 'face' to nothing more than a rocky mesa. You can find some excellent images (including 3D) on their website:
Type in "cydonia" into their search box and there they are.
No conspiracy theories here!
5 / 5 (10) Aug 02, 2010
As humans we're hard-wired to see faces everywhere. This, I'm afraid, is mere case of false recognition.
1.6 / 5 (7) Aug 02, 2010
Or maybe like the nazca lines a close up view doesnt't show the inteneded picture. Only from far above can you see the true meaning of both!
5 / 5 (6) Aug 02, 2010
not total darkness, click the enlarge link. You can clearly see the features that would have created the face illusion in the Viking photo.

I've seen better faces at Bad Lands National Park. And BOTH are completely natural.
1.7 / 5 (12) Aug 02, 2010
I guess that's it for the face. What about the rest of those artificial looking structures like the long translucent tube with the sphere stuck in transit? The artificial looking buildings? What about those things that look like trees and water? And that part of a landscape where it looks like there should be a cave, but was obviously airbrushed out by JPL?
1.8 / 5 (9) Aug 02, 2010
If they are going to go to the trouble of actually debunking the Face, why do it with a completely ambiguous photo? And why run the story on Fox?

]As much interest and comment as this feature has generated, I'm sure that it would have been possible to obtain a clearer image that obviously ruled out "The Face", and to find airtime on the other networks, including PBS.

ONTH, since they chose a photo that was less than optimal for the purpose, and aired the revelation on Fox, it seems almost as if they are taunting us.

At the very least, the whole situation could have been much better handled.
3.3 / 5 (7) Aug 03, 2010
And why run the story on Fox?

NASA makes news release. News organization decides whether or no to run story.
1.4 / 5 (8) Aug 03, 2010
I have yet to see any proof either way afterall the photos 'could' have been photoshoped and the 3d model could have been edited.

Problem is there is no way the public can check things for themselves as that would involve actually getting close enough to see for themselves. Right now all we can do is take the goverments word for such things.
1.4 / 5 (11) Aug 03, 2010
You can bet the face is still there just like Viking saw it. And you can also bet that the world's government will continue to try to sell us the cock and bull they have always perveyed. Only the government's lies get easier to see through as time goes by.
not rated yet Aug 03, 2010
Did you know that if you zoom out a lot that it looks a red ball or circle !! Maybe it is a sign like a traffic light 'stop here'.

Just for the naïve people: I'm joking.
5 / 5 (4) Aug 03, 2010
We have no way of knowing where that picture was taken except what we are being told and expected to believe.

How do you know that the original pictures weren't part of a conspiracy by disaffected anarchists to discredit NASA and foment a revolution?

The funny thing about conspiracy theorists is that they can be so skeptical of stuff that in many cases has multiple sources of verification, while taking as gospel claims that have no means of verification, but suit their 'political' views.

5 / 5 (4) Aug 03, 2010
LariAnn, most people don't have the means to independently verify the majority of what science has discovered about the world. We have to put our trust in competing specialists, just like we do for most everything else we consume. If there was an actual "face" on Mars, and the U.S. was denying it, Russia, France, Japan, or China would have by now jumped on the opportunity to denounce the U.S. as liars. Imagine the prisoner's dilemma from game theory, but with hundreds of players. Conspiracies are VERY difficulty to maintain, which makes most claims of their existence quite dubious.
4 / 5 (3) Aug 03, 2010
"...shows quite clearly that what looks like a face in the 1976 image is really just a rocky mesa".

Right, because previously it was assumed to be an actual, flesh and blood face...
3 / 5 (4) Aug 03, 2010
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.univer...lmap.gif
2. http://cdn.physor...acet.jpg

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.
5 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2010
(1) The lines of dots on the original photograph were a processing artifact. If one of the dots had not ended up on top of the mesa, it never would have looked like a face.

(2) At least half of humanity is of lower than average intelligence. This is one of the fence posts. Discuss amongst yourselves.
5 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2010

lets compare, look at these 2 pictures side by side:
1. http://www.univer...lmap.gif
2. http://cdn.physor...acet.jpg

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.

I see ... someone drew a yellow dotted line on one of the pictures. Drew it pretty stupidly if that's supposed to be a "trail" because any real trail would have followed the ridge up to the top crater and not gone down the slope and back up. Gee, lighting changes how things look. Other than that, it's an eroded hill, big woop.
not rated yet Aug 08, 2010
It's like that face I have voted for in 2008. I thought there was something there, but it was an optical illusion.
not rated yet Aug 09, 2010
Hey lets face it - All major agencies lie to the public as needed. Information is dangerous, and conspiracies make you feel smart and unfooled.
not rated yet Aug 09, 2010
Yeah and lets not forget the structures they found on our own moon that they covered up! Why would you make a big rock face anyway?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.