Case File: Face on Mars
Date: August 20, 1975
Description: The Face on Mars is described as a face-type formation in the desert of Cydonia on Mars.
History: On August 20, 1975, NASA launched Viking 1, with its destination being Mars. The Viking 1 was equipped with a landing pod capable of photography that would send data from the surface of the planet. Its main purpose was to determine if there was any form of life on Mars. Although the Viking 2, launched shortly after the first Viking, proved that life as we know it was inhospitable on the planet, other dramatic discoveries were made by the program that made some believe that Mars may have once had an ancient civilization on it.
The Viking 1 sent out pods to land on the planet. The pods took pictures to show how the planet looked from the surface. Pictures were taken of: impressions of depleted rivers; extinct volcanoes; two polar caps where the ice was easily visible; and deserts that may have had ice underneath them. One of these deserts, named Cydonia, had several intriguing features on it. There were several pyramids that seem to be identical to the pyramids in Egypt. However, what was more curious was a sphinx-like formation ten miles away that looked very similar to a face. The formation has been named the "Face on Mars".
Although some believe that the "face" was made by natural erosion on the surface of Mars, others believe that it is something more than that. Two years after the Viking mission, two computer engineers under contract with NASA noticed the face in a journal and began looking through the original photographs. One of the men, Vincent Dipietro, found the original photograph and noticed that it had been labeled "Head" by NASA. Using a sophisticated computer technique, Dipietro and his partner were able to bring more details out of the "face", including an apparent eyeball.
However, geologist Michael Karr believes that the face is merely an "accident of nature". Diepetro and his partner found another photograph that was taken at a different time that showed the Face of Mars as the same as it was in the first photograph. This seemed to verify that the face looked exactly the same, regardless of light or camera angle. Further examination of the second photograph showed even more details than the first; the apparent eye-socket was clearly visible again.
Physicist Dr. John Brandenburg examined the photographs and believes that the face and the pyramids needed to be better investigated. Another computer scientist used a different technique of photographic enhancement using shadow depth and found something that the others had missed: teeth. Dipietro and his partner also found another face-like formation on Mars, thousands of miles away, that had several similar measurements to the first one.
Although Michael Karr believes that the Face on Mars is nothing special, Dipietro is convinced that the face needs to be better investigated. In 1992, NASA will be sending new spacecraft to Mars to take more photographs and agreed to take pictures of the face that will be more high quality.
Investigations: Geologist Michael Karr who worked with the photograph team for the Viking 1 investigated the "Face on Mars" and believes that it was nothing other-worldly and was just caused by nature. He was able to find several other pictures that look like natural or unnatural things. For example, one looks like Kermit the Frog, but it is actually a natural phenomenon. NASA computer engineers Vincent Dipietro and Gregory Molinar investigated the "Face on Mars" as well and believe that the face was made by an ancient civilization.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the February 1, 1989 episode.
The possibility of Life on Mars was examined more extensively in the November 1, 1996 episode.
Results: Solved. During the 1990s and 2000s, new spacecraft, including NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter, were sent to Mars to take more detailed photographs of the planet. Through these new pictures, it was determined that the "Face on Mars" was merely an optical illusion known as "pareidolia". The "face" is actually just a Martian hill that only looks like a face from certain angles and illuminations.
- Cydonia on Wikipedia
- Unmasking the Face on Mars
- The Face on Mars: Fact and Fiction
- The Face of Mars: A Martian mystery turns 40