Cydonia (region of Mars)

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External images
Cydonia region by Mars Express
© ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)
Credit & Copyright — Scale: 13.7 m/pixel
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Coordinates: 40°44′N 9°28′W / 40.74°N 9.46°W / 40.74; -9.46

Small part of the Cydonia region, taken by the Viking 1 orbiter and released by NASA/JPL on July 25, 1976.

Cydonia is a region on the planet Mars, and has attracted both scientific[1] and popular interest.[2][3] The name originally referred to the albedo feature (distinctively coloured area) that was visible from Earthbound telescopes. The area borders plains of Acidalia Planitia and the Arabia Terra highlands.[4] The area includes the Mars regions: "Cydonia Mensae", an area of flat-topped mesa-like features, "Cydonia Colles", a region of small hills or knobs, and "Cydonia Labyrinthus", a complex of intersecting valleys.[5][6] As with other albedo features on Mars, the name Cydonia was drawn from classical antiquity, in this case from Kydonia, a historic polis (or "city-state") on the island of Crete.[7]

Cydonia contains the "Face on Mars" feature—located about half-way between Arandas Crater and Bamberg Crater.[4] The ESA "skull" formation is a few kilometres south of the "face".[4]



External images
Cydonia region by Mars Express
© ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)
Credit & Copyright — Scale: 13.7 m/pixel

Cydonia lies in the planet's northern hemisphere in a transitional zone between the heavily cratered regions to the South, and relatively smooth plains to the North. Some planetologists believe that the northern plains may once have been ocean beds[8] and that Cydonia may have been a coastal zone.[9]

"Face on Mars"

Cropped version of the original batch-processed image (#35A72) of the "Face on Mars". The black dots that give the image a speckled appearance are data errors.[10]
1976 Viking Orbiter image (left, image #70A13) compared with the 2001 Mars Global Surveyor image (right). 20 meters per pixel resolution.

One of the features in the Cydonia region, the "Face on Mars" (about 1.5 kilometers (one mile) across), has had special notoriety in Western culture since it was imaged in 1976, because it looks like a face.[11] This naturally occurring object of pareidolia has also inspired science fiction literature which typically assume it is a non-natural structure.[11][12] For comparison, an example of naturally occurring object of pareidolia on Earth was New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain prior to its 2003 collapse.

In one of the images taken by Viking 1 on July 25, 1976, a 2 km (1.2 miles) long Cydonian mesa, situated at 40.75° north latitude and 9.46° west longitude,[13] had the appearance of a humanoid "Face on Mars". When the image was originally acquired, Viking chief scientist Gerry Soffen dismissed the "face" in image 35A72[14] as a "trick of light and shadow".[15][16] However, a second image, 70A13, also shows the "Face", and was acquired 35 Viking orbits later at a different sun-angle from the 35A72 image. This latter discovery was made independently by Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar, two computer engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. DiPietro and Molenaar discovered the two misfiled images, Viking frames 35A72 and 70A13, while searching through NASA archives.[17]

Cydonia was first imaged in detail by the Viking 1 and Viking 2 orbiters. Eighteen images of the Cydonia region were taken by the orbiters, of which seven have resolutions better than 250 m/pixel (820 ft/pixel). The other eleven images have resolutions worse than 550 m/pixel (1800 ft/pixel) and are virtually useless for studying surface features. Of the seven good images, the lighting and time at which two pairs of images were taken are so close as to reduce the number to five distinct images. The Mission to Mars: Viking Orbiter Images of Mars CD-ROM image numbers for these are: 35A72 (VO-1010), 70A13 (VO-1011), 561A25 (VO-1021), 673B56 & 673B54 (VO-1063), and 753A33 & 753A34 (VO-1028).[18]

Later imagery

More than 20 years after the Viking 1 images were taken, a succession of spacecraft visited Mars and collected new data from the Cydonia region. These spacecraft have included NASA's Mars Global Surveyor (1997–2006)[19] and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2006-),[20] and the European Space Agency's Mars Express probe (2003-).[21] In contrast to the relatively low resolution of the Viking images of Cydonia, these new platforms afford much improved resolution. For instance, the Mars Express images are at a resolution of 14 m/pixel (46 ft/pixel) or better. By combining data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on the Mars Express probe and the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) on board NASA's Mars Global Surveyor it has been possible to create a 3-D representation of the "Face on Mars".[19]

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image by its HiRISE camera of the "Face on Mars"
Viking Orbiter image inset in bottom right corner
Mars Global Surveyor image (MOC camera) of the same feature

When it was first imaged, and into the 21st century, the "Face" is near universally accepted to be an optical illusion, an example of pareidolia.[11] After analysis of the higher resolution Mars Global Surveyor data NASA stated that "a detailed analysis of multiple images of this feature reveals a natural looking Martian hill whose illusory face-like appearance depends on the viewing angle and angle of illumination".[22] Similar optical illusions can be found in the geology of Earth;[23] examples include the Old Man of the Mountain, the Pedra da Gávea, the Old Man of Hoy and the Badlands Guardian.[24]


One of many formations in Cydonia, this one sometimes called the "D & M pyramid".[25][26]

The Cydonia facial pareidolia inspired individuals and organizations interested in extraterrestrial intelligence and visitations to Earth, and the images were published in this context in 1977.[12][27] Some commentators, most notably Richard C. Hoagland, believe the "Face" to be evidence of a long-lost Martian civilization along with other features they believe are present, such as apparent pyramids, which they argue are part of a ruined city.

While accepting the "face" as a subject for scientific study, astronomer Carl Sagan criticized much of the speculation concerning it in the chapter "The Man in the Moon and the Face on Mars" in his book The Demon-Haunted World.[28][29] The "Face" is also a common topic among skeptics groups, who use it as an example of credulity.[30] They point out that there are other faces on Mars, often much clearer, but their images do not elicit the same level of study. An example is the Galle Crater, which can show a rendition of a smiley, or a profile of Kermit the Frog, or other celebrities.[31] Discover magazine's Skeptical Eye column ridiculed Hoagland's claims, asking if he believed the aliens were fans of Sesame Street.[32][33]

In popular culture

Aside from speculation concerning their artificial origins, Cydonia and the "Face on Mars" also appear frequently in popular culture, including feature films, television series, video games, comic books, and even popular music. For example: films featuring the structures include Mission to Mars (2000); TV series include The X-Files ("Space", 1993), Invader Zim ("Battle of the Planets", 2002), Futurama ("Where The Buggalo Roam", 2002), Phineas and Ferb ("Unfair Science Fair", 2009); video games include Final Fantasy IV, Zak McKracken (1988), X-COM: UFO Defense (1993); comic books include Martian Manhunter (#1, 1998); and music includes Telemetry of a Fallen Angel by The Crüxshadows (1995), "Knights of Cydonia" by Muse (2006), "Hunting and Gathering (Cydonia)" by Sunn O))) (2009). The "Face" was also profiled on Unsolved Mysteries.

See also


  1. ^ Carlotto, M.J. (1988). "Digital Imagery Analysis of Unusual Martian Surface Features". Applied Optics 27 (10): 1926–1933. Bibcode 1988ApOpt..27.1926C. doi:10.1364/AO.27.001926. PMID 20531684. 
  2. ^ Whitehouse, D. (May 25, 2001). "Nasa: No face - honest". BBC. Retrieved November 9, 2007. 
  3. ^ Britt, R.R. (September 22, 2006). "Face on Mars gets makeover". CNN. Retrieved November 9, 2007. 
  4. ^ a b c G. Neukum - Cydonia - the face on Mars (21 September 2006) - ESA/DLR/FU Berlin
  5. ^ United States Geological Survey Astrogeology Program, Gazeteer of Planetary Nomenclature, "Mars Nomenclature".
  6. ^ United States Geological Survey Astrogeology Program, Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, "Descriptor Terms (Feature Types)".
  7. ^ MacDonald, T.L. (1971). "The origins of Martian nomenclature". Icarus 15: 233–240. Bibcode 1971Icar...15..233M. doi:10.1016/0019-1035(71)90077-7. 
  8. ^ Head, J.W.; Kreslavsky, M.; Hiesinger, H.; Ivanov, M.; Pratt, S.; Seibert, N.; Smith, D.E.; Zuber, M.T. (1998). "Oceans in the past history of Mars: Tests for their presence using Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) data". Geophysical Research Letters 25: 4401–4404. Bibcode 1998GeoRL..25.4401H. doi:10.1029/1998GL900116. 
  9. ^ Malin, M.C.; Edgett, K.S. (1999). "Oceans or seas in the Martian northern lowlands: High resolution imaging tests of proposed coastlines". Geophysical Research Letters 26: 3049–3052. Bibcode 1999GeoRL..26.3049M. doi:10.1029/1999GL002342. 
  10. ^ "PIA01141: Geologic 'Face on Mars' Formation". NASA. 2 April 1998. Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c Britt, R.R. (March 18, 2004). "Scientist attacks alien claims on Mars". CNN. Retrieved October 12, 2007. 
  12. ^ a b Smukler, H. (1977). "Dramatic Photos of Mars: the Home of the Gods". Ancient Astronauts (January): 26. 
  13. ^ Rayl, A.J.S. (March 16, 2007). "The Empire Strikes Back: Europe's First Trip to Mars Brings Home "The Gold"". Planetary Society. Retrieved June 5, 2008. 
  14. ^ Viking News Center (July 31, 1976). "Caption of JPL Viking Press Release P-17384 (35A72)". NASA. Retrieved May 1, 2008. 
  15. ^ Hoagland, Richard (1996). The Monuments of Mars — A City on the Edge of Forever (4th ed.). Frog Books. p. 5. ISBN 1-883319-30-7. 
  16. ^ "Pixel Inversion - NASA's Misinformation on the Mars Face". Paranormal News. August 25, 1999. Retrieved May 29, 2008. 
  17. ^ Gardner, M. (1985). "The Great Stone Face and Other Nonmysteries". Skeptical Inquirer 10: 14–18. 
  18. ^ Mission to Mars: Viking Orbiter Images of Mars website, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory; raw data in IMQ (ImageQ) format can be downloaded from these links: 35A72, 70A13, 561A25, 673B56, 673B54, 753A33, 753A34. Retrieved on September 20, 2007.
  19. ^ a b "Cydonia's 'Face on Mars' in 3-D animation using Mars Global Surveyor imagery". ESA website. October 23, 2006. Retrieved April 26, 2007. 
  20. ^ "Popular Landform in Cydonia Region". HiRISE website. Retrieved April 26, 2007. 
  21. ^ "Cydonia - the face on Mars, 3-D rendering of Mars Express imagery". ESA website. September 21, 2006. Retrieved April 26, 2007. 
  22. ^ "The Face on Mars, Viking Project". NASA website. Retrieved April 26, 2007. 
  23. ^ Dunning, B. (April 22, 2008). "The Face on Mars Revealed". Skeptoid #97. Retrieved August 26, 2008. 
  24. ^ "Badlands Guardian Geological Feature". Google Maps.,-110.113006&spn=0.009363,0.020084&t=k&iwloc=addr. Retrieved April 26, 2007. 
  25. ^ "Cydonia: Two Years Later". Malin Space Science Systems. April 5, 2000. Retrieved December 1, 2008. 
  26. ^ Fitzpatrick-Matthews, K. (August 17, 2007). "The ‘D&M Pyramid’". Bad Archaeology. Retrieved December 1, 2008. 
  27. ^ Richard Grossinger, ed. (1986). Planetary Mysteries: Megaliths, Glaciers, the Face on Mars and Aboriginal Dreamtime. Berkeley, California, USA: North Atlantic Books. p. 11. ISBN 0-938190-90-3. Retrieved August 12, 2008. 
  28. ^ Sagan, Carl (1996). The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark. Random House. ISBN 0-394-53512-X. 
  29. ^ McDaniel, Stanley (1998). The Case for the Face: Scientists Examine The Evidence for Alien Artifacts on Mars. Adventure Unlimited Press. ISBN 0-932813-59-3. 
  30. ^ Gary Posner, "The Face Behind the "Face" on Mars: A Skeptical Look at Richard C. Hoagland", Skeptical Eye, Nov/Dec 2000
  31. ^ "More "Faces" on Mars"
  32. ^ Fred Golden, "Skeptical Eye", Discover, April 1985
  33. ^ Martin Gardner, "The Great Stone Face and Other Nonmysteries", Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1985

Further reading

External links

Non-Space Agency