Cydonia Quest


The Face of 1976


"Oh my God, look at this!"

In the Summer of 1976, on its thirty fifth orbit of Mars, the first of the two Viking Orbiters snapped a picture that was to change many people's lives forever. Whilst looking for a safe landing place for the Viking Two lander, imaging team member Toby Owen was surprised by the face-like nature of a mesa on image 35A72. At the next Viking mission press conference Gerry Soffen, the Viking project scientist, showed the odd image to the press corps with the comment, "Isn't it peculiar what tricks of lighting and shadow can do". Then the "Face" was quickly forgotten - even by Richard Hoagland who was at this press conference! The picture on the left shows the original NASA processed version of image 35A72. To my surprise some newly published astronomy books still use this image of the "Face" when dismissing it as an illusion popular with eccentric characters.

The "Face" would have remained in obscurity if it wasn't for the fact that years later a NASA imaging specialist, Vincent DiPietro, kept on coming across the Viking image in unexpected ways. The image of the "Face" also intrigued his colleague Gregory Molenaar and together they set out to see what could be teased out of the image by computer enhancement. Finding that NASA's standard techniques where inadequate to the task they developed their own interpolation method known as the Starburst Pixel Interleaving Technique or SPIT. Rather than becoming less face-like under the SPIT processing, the "Face" actually began to yield up more facial features. There were also strong hints that the eastern, shadowed side of the "Face" mirrored the features of the sunlit side. Moreover it was becoming apparent that the facial features sat on a platform which seemed remarkably symmetrical for a natural formation.

In order to solve the mystery of the eastern side of the "Face" DiPietro and Molenaar set out to track down any other Viking images of the "Face". This led to the discovery of image 70A13 in which the Sun was at a much higher angle in the sky. The new image confirmed the symmetry of the "Face" platform and the general bi-symmetry of the facial features. Not only were there "eye sockets" on each side of the "Face" but the one on the western side had a feature like a "pupil/iris" in it.

The trawl of Viking images also began to reveal that the "Face" was not the only anomalous looking feature in this area of Cydonia. A few miles to the South of the "Face" they found a curious five sided "pyramid" - now known as the D&M Pyramid after its discoverers. The Cydonia question was beginning to snowball. (The images to the left and right are from Dr. Mark J. Carlotto's enhancements of the low and high Sun angle Viking images of the "Face". I've coloured in the surrounding Cydonia plain to emphasise the base of the "Face" platform).


A funny thing happened on the way to Mars

The Cydonian anomalies opened up the possibility of a 2001: A Space Odyssey situation of the sort that the Brookings Report had warned NASA about at its inception. However, there was only one thing wrong with the Cydonia formations - they were so damn big! The "Face" formation was one mile in length. Most scientists just dismissed the whole idea out of hand. Planetary SETI seemed too much like pseudo-science. The only way to make progress was to get more and better pictures of the Cydonia region. The only problem was that NASA had completely lost interest in Mars.

Although DiPietro and Molenaar presented their findings to the American Astronomical Society in June 1980, it would be another thirteen years before another spacecraft was to be sent to Mars. The Mars Observer carried the light weight, high resolution camera patented by Dr. Michael Malin (who ironically is the most publicly vehement opponent of the artificiality hypothesis for Cydonia). The intervening years had seen a fierce political battle to get NASA and Dr. Malin to agree to image the "Face" and other anomalies. Although many parts of NASA had shown a real interest in the Cydonia anomalies (culminating in Richard Hoagland being asked to make a television documentary for the Public Broadcasting System), a crackdown from JPL and NASA headquarters from 1990 onwards resulted in a highly hostile policy towards Cydonia research. There were no artificial artefacts at Cydonia, because NASA said so.........And then in 1993 as the Mars Observer went into orbit around Mars it mysteriously disappeared forever.


Garfield's revenge It wasn't until 1998, when the Mars Global Observer began its imaging mission of Mars, that there was another chance to get a better look at the "Face". Indeed NASA held a press conference to mark the first new image of this mystery in twenty two years. The image that was presented to the media (with open derision by NASA) is shown on the right. Anyone conversant with research on the "Face" would have immediately realised there was something very wrong with the processing of the picture. An 1,800 foot tall mesa had been reduced to vague swirls on the Cydonian plain. NASA should have been aware of this problem as a large crater in the image strip also looked completely wrong. Within a few hours JPL had released a new version of the same image processed to their normal standards. However, the damage was done and the media had lost interest in the Cydonia anomalies. (Catbox" image on left, later image on right).

The image of the "Face" presented at the press conference was quickly dubbed the "Catbox" because it looked like scratchings in kitty litter. As I've learnt more about the computer enhancement of images I've come to realise that the "Catbox" image was not the result of botched processing, but of a properly processed image being deliberately degraded. Lan Fleming has made a fairly good job of replicating how this de-enhancement was done. One of the biggest surprises is that the artistic effect of "embossing", available in most image software, was probably used. Embossing is not an enhancement technique. (Click on the "stargate" to read Fleming's "Catbox" study µµµ).

It is not entirely clear why anyone within NASA or JPL felt compelled to sabotage the image of the "Face" to be presented at the press conference. The corrected image released a few hours later showed a heavily eroded formation that could have equally have been ruins or rocks (see image on right). Moreover, the new image was poorly suited for showing whether the facial features seen in the Viking pictures stood up under higher resolution or whether there were any constructional features in evidence.

n The image was not taken directly from above, but at a 45 degree angle to the Martian surface from the West. This meant that we were actually seeing the facial features in semi-profile. As a result foreshortening meant that features on the eastern side of the "Face" were bunched up.

n Moreover, the lighting angle from the Sun was from under the "chin". Faces look at their most face-like with the light coming down from the top of the head.

n The resolution was a very low 20 metres (about 60 feet). Moreover the image was compressed by 50% before transmission to Earth, so the effective resolution was even less. In fact the image was not greatly superior to that taken by Viking. The maximum resolution advertised for the Malin camera on the Mars Global Surveyor is 1.5 metres (under 5 feet).

n The image was taken through what was effectively a Martian dust storm. This together with the low resolution meant that it was highly unlikely that it would be possible to see any evidence of structural engineering if it existed.

This page is now becoming rather image intensive. In order to allow quick download I've split this analysis of the "Face" into more than one part. To go on to Part Two click on the "stargate" below.

µ The "Face" : Part Two

µ The "Face" : Part Three

µ The "Face" : Part Four

µ The "Face" : Part Five