Face On Mars
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MarsFace01.jpg (61390 bytes)The Face was rediscovered in 1979 by Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar, computer engineers under contract at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland. DiPietro had become intrigued with Viking frame 35A72 labelled "Head" filed in the archive. Looking for further information on the geological explanation and analysis of the feature, he found nothing. Initially DiPietro and his partner Molenaar called for further investigation of the 2.5km wide Face and the apparently vast pyramid-like structure approximately 500m high and nearly 3km long on frame 70A13 nearby, later termed the D&M pyramid after its discoverers.

They first developed a computer processing method called SPIT (Starburst Pixel Interleave Technique) to enhance the images, then tested the integrity of the method on Landsat photographs of the Earth. Although they presented their findings in a technically responsible and scientific manner, calling for verification of their results, they were generally ignored by the very scientists who should have been most interested.

Despite having been shunned by the mainstream planetary establishment, undaunted, they set up their own research organisation Mars Research, with physicist Dr John Brandenburg.

DiPietro and Molenaar's findings were further developed by the pioneering work of former NASA consultant Richard Hoagland in the early 1980s. Hoagland was one of the men behind the interstellar plaques designed to be understood by any alien life-forms who might discover them aboard the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes to Jupiter, Saturn and beyond. An extremely controversial figure in the US space community, he promotes radical new ideas many find difficult to accept. With a background in subject areas like archaeoastronomy, Hoagland was also something of an outsider to the planetary establishment. He had originally accepted NASA's explanation of the Face without question.

Hoagland discovered a collection of pyramidal mounds to the southwest of the Face (termed the City) and containing the Fort, an unusual object apparently with straight walls and an open central area. He also calculated that Martian solstice alignments at Cydonia would be fulfilled every 500,000 years or so, later revising this to 330,000 years. Departing from the usual planetary landform analysis techniques, he examined the features' possible spatial orientations to one another. He also commissioned sculptor Kynthia Lynne to create an analogue clay model of the Face and surrounding terrain. When compared with the independent computer studies conducted there was strong correlation. Part of Kynthia's model can be seen on the cover of Hoagland's book "The Monuments of Mars".

Results of the early work on Cydonia are found in anthropologist Randolfo Pozos's book "The Face on Mars: Evidence for a Lost Civilization?", an account of the computerised conference that took place in late 1983 and early 1984 between Hoagland, DiPietro, Molenaar, Brandenburg and others. As well as exploring the technical research conducted on Viking image mosaics, Pozos approached the highly speculative subject of extraterrestrial life from religious and philosophical perspectives, examining the profound implications should Mars indeed have once held advanced life.

The next researcher to address Cydonia was Dr Mark Carlotto, former employee of a Boston company occasionally involved in US government-related work. Dr Carlotto examined Viking imagery in 1986/7 using shape-from-shading, disproving the "trick of light and shadow" theory. He noted the possibility that teeth were present in the mouth of the Face, and that these were not artifacts of imaging, appearing in pictures taken at two different sun angles. Estimating the Face at around 2.5km long, 2km wide and 400m in height, Carlotto further noted crossed symmetrical lines on the forehead. He also applied the fractal analysis technique two years later. In 1991 Carlotto published a book about his work "The Martian Enigmas", where he called for Mars Observer, NASA's most recent Mars probe, to re-image Cydonia.

In 1988 Erol Torun, a geomorphologist and cartographer with the US Defence Mapping Agency in Washington DC, published a cartographic and geometrical analysis of the D&M pyramid. He concluded that the internal angles and symmetry were unlikely to occur in a natural mountain, and that no known erosional process could produce such a regular formation. Torun has also worked with Hoagland developing his theories. Finally former planetologist and NASA astronaut corps member Brian O'Leary (at one time on the selection list for a manned mission to Mars) also published work on Cydonia in 1990, independently reviewing Carlotto's work in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society.

The history of the Cydonia research and NASA's attitude towards it, up to and including the loss of the Mars Observer spacecraft in August 1993 are well documented in the 200 page McDaniel Report. Author Stanley McDaniel, Philosophy Professor Emeritus at Sonoma State University, California, details how NASA failed to seriously consider the research and potential importance of the issues raised.

McDaniel argues that the space agency ignored or avoided the research, failing to justify its criticisms. The narrow SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) methodology assumed and adopted by NASA was the radio-search model i.e. evidence of extraterrestrial life could only occur via Earth-based radiotelescopes. Yet surely it is incontestable that potential artifacts on nearby planets need a clearer photographic examination? In view of this point, it seems strange NASA is unwilling to consider it, though there have been recent signs that this attitude may be changing.

The most recent work on Cydonia was completed in 1995 by Professor McDaniel and Dr Horace Crater, of the University of Tennessee Space Institute. They published a mathematical analysis of the small mounds in the vicinity of the Face and City, their method being to discount the random placing of these mounds.

If the objects in Cydonia are artificial how could we learn more about them, beyond obviously re-imaging the area with optical sensor systems? One approach might be to use a technique known as radar remote sensing. This was used with great success on NASA's Magellan mission, which recently mapped Venus using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). Radar remote sensing has a number of advantages over conventional optical systems. Firstly, the illumination of a scene is generated by the satellite itself, in the form of microwaves. These have several unique properties: they can pass through clouds and weather systems unaffected; they can be used regardless of day or night (and hence are of great interest to the military) and can, to some extent, help to show what surface textures and materials are composed of. On Earth for example, power lines and railways show up clearly on radar imagery, being linear metal features they are strong signal reflectors.

MarsFace03.jpg (470910 bytes)A radar system deployed to study Cydonia might be used not only to map the topography, but also provide spectacular 3-D views similar to those of Venus generated from Magellan data. It would also be able to peer beneath the Martian desert revealing the geological substructure as well as any possible ruins.

The European Space Agency has examined instrumentation including several radar systems for possible Mars missions in a 1989 study document. Radar applications on Earth have made some surprising findings. The space shuttle radar revealed ancient Mayan canals when the shuttle flew over Central America in 1981. Completely covered in jungle they were invisible from the ground. Archaeologists subsequently visited the site and verified the shuttle's discoveries. The discovery of the ancient city of Ubar, in the Middle East, was also assisted by space shuttle radar imagery. At the time of writing, Dr Michael Malin, President of Malin Space Sciences the company building the camera for Mars Observer's replacement has said he will re-image Cydonia. This marks a subtle change from an individual who has sole control of what objects the camera photographs, and originally showed no special interest in the Cydonia region. The Mars Global Surveyor is due to commence mapping Mars in early 1998. 

MarsFace04.jpg (437340 bytes)What could be the solution to the mystery of Cydonia? Conventional explanations for the Face involve natural forces blindly sculpting the mesa into its near-symmetrical form. The pyramids have been compared with driekanters or ventifacts rocks and stones polished and faceted by windblown sand. Yet if the landforms are natural it obviously asks a great deal of nature. How could the same winds produce such differing forms so close by, and what about the precise mathematical angles claimed in the D&M pyramid?

We can but speculate on the implications should the features turn out to be artificial, but theories put forward amongst those advocating an artificial origin suggest that Cydonia might provide evidence for it; for example: 

An ancient indigenous civilization which arose on Mars billions of years ago, when the planet was more Earth-like; perishing, for reasons not yet fully understood, when the climate changed. 

Visitors from beyond the solar system who colonized Mars when it was more habitable, either dying out, migrating to Earth or returning home when the climate changed. 

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Copyright 2010 Tim Stouse
Last modified: December 10, 2010
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