Face to Face

Mars' famous "face", imaged in 2007.

Remember the old photo of the mysterious “face on Mars” taken by the Viking spacecraft in 1976? Well here’s the same landform, imaged by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Just goes to show that things aren’t always what they seem.

Mars face in 1976. Image: NASA

The surprisingly human-looking “face” was really just a trick of the light combined with the relatively low-resolution of Viking’s camera. Rather than a carved monument erected by an ancient humanoid civilization, the feature has long since been proven to be a lava dome, creating a mesa rising above the surrounding landscape. With the right lighting and perspective, shadows create shapes interpreted – pretty easily, I must say – as eyes, nose and an open mouth…and perhaps even a sort of headdress or ring of hair. But hey, as people, I guess we’re somewhat biased that way.

In the high-resolution image of the same feature, taken from 300km above the surface, it all dissolves into a typical Mars landform. Although interesting in its own right, it’s no timeless sentinel staring out into space. But that’s the beauty of science, really….revealing the reality behind imagination. Not to destroy it but hopefully to inspire even more fascination because of it. Reality, after all, still has plenty of surprises in store for us.

Read more on Universe Today.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona