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Mars Express Images: Cydonia - The Face on Mars

Subject: Mars Express Images: Cydonia - The Face on Mars
Date: 21 Sep 2006 09:01:32 -0700
Newsgroups: sci.astro, alt.sci.planetary, sci.geo.geology

Cydonia - the face on Mars
Mars Express
European Space Agency
21 September 2006

['Face on Mars' in Cydonia region]

ESA's Mars Express has obtained images of the Cydonia region, site of
the famous 'Face on Mars.' The High Resolution Stereo Camera photos
include some of the most spectacular views of the Red Planet ever.

[Cydonia region context map]

After multiple attempts to image the Cydonia region from April 2004
until July 2006 were frustrated by altitude and atmospheric dust and
haze, the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board Mars Express
finally obtained, on 22 July, a series of images that show the famous
'face' on Mars in unprecedented detail.

The data were gathered during orbit 3253 over the Cydonia region, with
ground resolution of approximately 13.7 metres per pixel. Cydonia lies
at approximately 40.75?? North and 350.54?? East.

"These images of the Cydonia region on Mars are truly spectacular,"
Dr Agustin Chicarro, ESA Mars Express Project Scientist. "They not only
provide a completely fresh and detailed view of an area famous to fans
of space myths worldwide, but also provide an impressive close-up over
an area of great interest for planetary geologists, and show once more
the high capability of the Mars Express camera."

Cydonia is located in the Arabia Terra region on Mars and belongs to
transition zone between the southern highlands and the northern plains
of Mars. This transition is characterized by wide, debris-filled
and isolated remnant mounds of various shapes and sizes.

['Face on Mars' illusion as seen by Viking 1]

'Human face' first seen in 1976

One of these visible remnant massifs became famous as the 'Face on
in an image taken on 25 July 1976 by the American Viking 1 Orbiter.

A few days later, on 31 July 1976, a NASA press release said the
formation "resembles a human head." However, NASA scientists had
correctly interpreted the image as an optical illusion caused by the
illumination angle of the Sun, the formation's surface morphology and
the resulting shadows, giving the impression of eyes, nose and mouth.

Nonetheless, the 'Face on Mars' was the subject of widespread
speculation on the possible origins and purpose of artificial
on the Red Planet, with the face being the most talked-about formation.

The array of nearby structures has been interpreted by some space
enthusiasts as artificial landscapes, such as potential pyramids and
even a disintegrated city. The idea that the planet might have once
home to intelligent beings has since inspired the imagination of many
Mars fans, and has been expressed in numerous, more-or-less serious,
newspaper articles as well as in science-fiction literature and on many
Web pages.

[Cydonia region, colour image]

Despite all this, the formal scientific interpretation has never
changed: the face remains a figment of human imagination in a heavily
eroded surface.

It took until April 1998, and confirmation with additional data from
Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, before popular
speculation waned. More data from the same orbiter in 2001 further
confirmed this conclusion.

Significance for planetary geologists

While the formations aren't of alien origin, they are nevertheless of
significant interest to planetary geologists.

[Cydonia region, black and white]

In areas adjacent to Cydonia, gently sloping areas surrounding hills or
reliefs, so-called 'debris aprons,' are frequently found. They form at
the foot of such remnant mounds and probably consist of a mixture of
rocky debris and ice. In Cydonia itself, such aprons are often missing
in smaller massifs. The formation of debris aprons is considered to be
controlled by talus formation, a sloping mass of rock debris at the
of a cliff, and landslides.

At the Mars 'face,' such characteristic landslides and an early form of
debris apron formation can be seen.

['Face on Mars' in Cydonia region, perspective]

Former larger debris aprons might have been covered by later lava flows
in the surrounding area; the western wall of the face moved downslope
a coherent mass. The location of the detachment zone is reflected by a
large scarp extending from North to South. The results of large mass
wasting, or downslope movement of rock, are also visible at the foot of
the pyramid-like formations.

Between April 2004 and July 2006, the HRSC gathered data from the
Cydonia region numerous times.

However, high flight altitude, resulting in poor data resolution on the
ground (orbits 0262, 2533, 2872), as well as dust and haze in the
Martian atmosphere, leading to heavily reduced data quality (orbits
1216, 2872) prevented the acquisition of high-quality Cydonia images.

['Skull-shaped' formation in Cydonia region]

Naturally 'skull-shaped' formation in Cydonia region

On 22 July, the HRSC finally met success during orbit 3253, and a wide
area in Cydonia was imaged at the best possible resolution and in 3D.

In fact, in addition to the well-known 'face' and 'pyramids,' a
naturally skull-shaped structure also appears in some of the Mars
Express images.

As the famous scientist and writer Carl Sagan said:

    "Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But
    without it we go nowhere."

['Pyramids and Skull' in Cydonia region, perspective'

[Cydonia region, colour image]

['Face on Mars' in Cydonia region, perspective]

Note on images:

The colour scenes were derived from three HRSC-colour channels. The
perspective views have been calculated from the digital terrain model
derived from the stereo channels.

The 3D anaglyph images (shown in the accompanying article linked at
right, above) were derived from the stereo and nadir channels. Image
resolution has been decreased for use on the internet.

Note to editors:

The HRSC instrument and science team is led by Principal Investigator
Prof. Dr Gerhard Neukum. The team consists of 45 co-investigators from
32 institutions and 10 nations.

The systematic processing of the HRSC image data is carried out by the
German Aerospace Center (DLR), while the images shown here were
processed by the PI group at the Institute for Geosciences, Freie
Universitaet (Free University), Berlin, in cooperation with DLR's
Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin.

For more information:

Dr Agustin Chicarro
ESA Mars Express Project Scientist
agustin.chicarro @

Gerhard Neukum
HRSC Principal Investigator
Freie Universitaet Berlin
Email: gneukum @

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