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The Face on Mars

The year 1976 was an important year for people that believe in the occult. That was the year that the Viking I spacecraft orbited mars and, while looking for a suitable landing place for his sister, Viking II, took a number of pictures of the Cydonia region. But these pictures were not the kind that would be developed in a simple chemical solution, as so many students in Drexel’s Academic building know. These photographs would be developed in pure terror!

I can only imagine the look on the face of the guy back at NASA when he spotted a mountain that seemed to have spotted him. For the first time, the so-called “Face of Mars” had been spotted. From above, it looks like a giant monument, about 2 miles across, with eyes, a nose, and a mouth. NASA, amused at such a strange geologic formation, released the photo to the public, reasoning that it would be a good way to catch the public’s attention and get them interested in science. They were half right.

The Face of Mars immediately grabbed hold of the imaginations of those on the fringe of our society. They immediately came to the conclusion that this was no simple geological oddity, but rather that it was a monument of a human face, sculpted thousands, perhaps millions, of years ago by an advanced civilization that lived on the red planet. Looking at more pictures, they came to the conclusion that south of the face there was also a giant alien city, replete with temples, fortifications, and pyramids.

Some scientists speculate that, if Mars was once covered in liquid water, the Cydonia region may have been shore-front property. The mountains, mesas, and valleys in this region are quite similar to areas on Earth where wind, water, and time wore away at the landmasses. That’s why we’re so interested in it. But where scientists see interesting terrain, the UFO enthusiast sees an ancient city.

For instance, there is a landform that, from above, looks like a Pyramid. The claim is made that it is a perfect pyramid, identical to the ones in Giza, Egypt, and that it is clearly the temple of an ancient people. There are also landforms that have been dubbed “the Tholus”, “The City”, “The Fortress”, and “The Cliff”. These are all nothing more than naturally occurring formations, but with enough imagination, I suppose you could convince yourself to see something different.

The response that NASA got was baffling. Everyone was interested in the Face and adjoining regions. This was exactly what NASA had hoped for; without public enthusiasm, the space program would be doomed. They decided that they would send more spacecraft to take a look at the region, for two reasons: because the public was interested in it and because the area really was a target of legitimate scientific inquiry, the reason that the Viking I had been there in the first place. However, this was not enough for the occult-loving community. Not understanding that sending a probe to a different planet requires quite a bit of research, planning, and engineering, they became convinced that since NASA was not able to send another probe right away, they were covering something up.

So people were already skeptical of NASA, through no fault of the agency. They simply did not understand that flying a sophisticated piece of equipment to Mars was not as easy as pointing their cars towards the corner store and setting off.

Anyway, NASA eventually got around to getting the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) into position in 1998.  They took some better pictures and (surprise, surprise) it revealed nothing more than a simple mountain that, if the combinations of lights and shadows were right, could create the optical illusion of a giant face. The people who had bought into the myth of an alien culture, however howeled “cover up! Misinformation! NASA is lying to us!” Surprise, surprise. NASA, being some pretty good natured people, conceded that when the photos were taken, it was winter, and the satellite had to peer through some clouds to get the image. Perhaps those clouds had obscured the real image of a Martian Monument and the associated City. They took another picture using the same satellite in 2001, but this time on a clear, sunny Martian day. The pictures that were the result looked even less like a face, and even more like a mountain that had been eroded by natural conditions. It’s nothing different than what you would see in the American southwest, famous birthplace of spicy food and atomic weapons.

The UFO community is far from undeterred, however. They claim that, despite the fact that NASA seems to be pretty obliging when it comes to take photos for them, the space agency was doctoring the images to misinform the public. The reasons that NASA would want to do this range from the government wanting to cover-up the existence of UFOs, to the US government wanting other governments to think nothing is going on over there, so that when we actually send a man to Mars, we get first dibs on all of the ancient technology that the aliens left there.

I know a grand total of absolutely nothing about interpreting photographs. The sum total of my skills in this field is my uncanny ability to know when naked celebrity photos aren't real and someone just cut-and-pasted a celebrity's head onto a naked person's naked body. AOL teaches you some strange things. Anyway, before releasing the images to the public, NASA uses computers to “clean them up.” I assume that this involves basic things such as changing the contrast and brightness, but apparently it also involves using mathematics to remove shadows, make lines sharper, take into account the roundness of the planet, so on and so forth. Perhaps they really did edit out some important features.

NASA has made many of the pictures available to private individuals to analyze. Depending on who did the analyses, people have discovered all sorts of facial features, such as lips, eyebrows, nostrils, and even a headdress similar to the ones worn by ancient Egyptians. I guess the only question that you have to ask yourself is who would you trust more? Trained scientists who spend every single day interpreting photographs, and who built the device with which these photos were taken in the first place, or amateur enthusiasts, who have a vested interest in finding a face there?

I say that the UFO community has an interest in finding a face in Cydonia for two simple reasons: pride and money. Most of the community has publicly made known their opinion that the Face on Mars and the other things are actually the residues of an ancient alien society. If it turns out just to be a plain old boring mountain, the reputations and, I suspect, their feelings will be hurt. Secondly they’ve made a fortune on the idea that the face is out there. Hundreds of books, magazines, articles, movies, and assorted folderol have been published, and gobbled up by the public, on this topic. The people that write these books aren’t doing it for fun; I very much doubt that the proceeds go to anything other than the author’s “If I write enough silly shit I can buy a boat” fund.

The situation is simple: the Face on Mars has been repeatedly shown using highly precise scientific equipment to be nothing other than a mountain that, at certain times, may create an optical illusion that makes it look like a monument. NASA did not, no matter what the charges are, try and cover up the existence of the face, otherwise they never would have released the original pictures. They certainly did not drag their heels trying to get back to Mars to take more pictures; traveling to a distant planet is hard work and takes time to do right (and only one incorrect use of units to do horribly, horribly wrong.) NASA returned to photograph the Cydonia region in part because it would make good public relations, but mainly because it’s an area of legitimate scientific concern.

There may have been life on Mars at one point, but there is absolutely zero proof that they built great cities or monuments, which are being covered up at the highest levels of government.

Be seeing you.

First published in The Triangle on 24 January 2006..