Cydonia (region of Mars)

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 (/sˈdniə/, /sˈdniə/) is a region on the planet Mars that 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 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" featurelocated about halfway between Arandas Crater and Bamberg Crater.[4]


External image
Cydonia region by Mars Express (13.7 meters/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 once have been a coastal zone.[9]

"Face on Mars"

Cropped version of the original batch-processed image (#035A72) 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 #070A13) compared with the 2001 Mars Global Surveyor image (right). The "Face" is 1.5 km across in size.

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 that are worse than 550 m/pixel (1800 ft/pixel) and are of limited use 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 set image numbers for these are: 035A72 (VO-1010), 070A13 (VO-1011), 561A25 (VO-1021), 673B54 & 673B56 (VO-1063), and 753A33 & 753A34 (VO-1028).[11][12]

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. When the image was originally acquired, Viking chief scientist Gerry Soffen dismissed the "Face on Mars" in image 035A72[14] as a "trick of light and shadow".[15][16] However, a second image, 070A13, also shows the "face", and was acquired 35 Viking orbits later at a different sun-angle from the 035A72 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 035A72 and 070A13, while searching through NASA archives.[17]

Later imagery

More than 20 years after the Viking 1 images were taken, a succession of spacecraft visited Mars and made new observations of the Cydonia region. These spacecraft have included NASA's Mars Global Surveyor (1997–2006) and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2006-),[18] and the European Space Agency's Mars Express probe (2003-).[19] 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 three-dimensional representation of the "Face on Mars".[20]

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.

Since it was originally first imaged, the "face" has been accepted by scientists as an optical illusion, an example of the psychological phenomenon of pareidolia.[21][22][23] 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".[24] Similar optical illusions can be found in the geology of Earth;[25] examples include the Old Man of the Mountain, the Sphinx, the Pedra da Gávea, the Old Man of Hoy, Stac Levenish and the Badlands Guardian.[26]


One of many formations in Cydonia, this one is sometimes called the "D & M pyramid".[27][28]

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.[29][30] Some commentators, most notably Richard C. Hoagland, believe the "Face on Mars" 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.[31]

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.[32][33] The "face" is also a common topic among skeptics groups, who use it as an example of credulity.[34] They point out that there are other faces on Mars, often much clearer, but the images of these do not elicit the same level of study. One example is the Galle Crater, which takes the form of a smiley, while others resemble Kermit the Frog or other celebrities.[35] On this latter similarity, Discover magazine's "Skeptical Eye" column ridiculed Hoagland's claims, asking if he believed the aliens were fans of Sesame Street.[17][36]

As a result of the speculation concerning their artificial origins, Cydonia and the "Face on Mars" 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 Zak McKracken (1988), Final Fantasy IV (1991), X-COM: UFO Defense (1993), SWIV 3D (1996), Kerbal Space Program (2015), The Room Three (2016); comic books include Martian Manhunter (#1, 1998); and music includes Telemetry of a Fallen Angel by The Crüxshadows (1995), Cydonia by Crimson Glory (1999), Knights of Cydonia by Muse (2006) and Hunting Gathering (Cydonia) by Sunn O))) (2009).

In 1958, almost two decades prior to the first images of the Face from the Viking probes, the comic book artist Jack Kirby wrote a story entitled "The Face on Mars" for Harvey Comics (Race for the Moon Number 2, September 1958), in which a large face (oriented vertically rather than horizontally) served as a monument to an extinct humanoid race from Mars.[37][38]

See also


  1. Carlotto, Mark J. (May 15, 1988). "Digital Imagery Analysis of Unusual Martian Surface Features" (PDF). Applied Optics. Washington, D.C.: Optical Society of America. 27 (10): 1926–1933. Bibcode:1988ApOpt..27.1926C. doi:10.1364/AO.27.001926. ISSN 0003-6935. PMID 20531684. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  2. Whitehouse, David (May 25, 2001). "Nasa: No face - honest". BBC News. London. Retrieved November 9, 2007.
  3. Britt, Robert Roy (September 22, 2006). "Face on Mars gets makeover". Retrieved November 9, 2007.
  4. 1 2 "Cydonia - the face on Mars". ESA. September 21, 2006. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  5. "Planetary Names: Mars". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. USGS Astrogeology Research Program. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  6. "Planetary Names: Feature Types". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. USGS Astrogeology Research Program. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  7. MacDonald, T. L. (October 1971). "The origins of Martian nomenclature". Icarus. Amsterdam: Elsevier. 15 (2): 233–240. Bibcode:1971Icar...15..233M. doi:10.1016/0019-1035(71)90077-7. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  8. Head III, J.W.; Kreslavsky, M.; Hiesinger, H.; Ivanov, M.; Pratt, Stephen; Seibert, N.; Smith, D.E.; Zuber, M.T. (December 15, 1998). "Oceans in the past history of Mars: Tests for their presence using Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) data". Geophysical Research Letters. Washington, D.C.: American Geophysical Union. 25 (24): 4401–4404. Bibcode:1998GeoRL..25.4401H. doi:10.1029/1998GL900116. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  9. Malin, Michael C.; Edgett, Kenneth S. (October 1, 1999). "Oceans or seas in the Martian northern lowlands: High resolution imaging tests of proposed coastlines". Geophysical Research Letters. Washington, D.C.: American Geophysical Union. 26 (19): 3049–3052. Bibcode:1999GeoRL..26.3049M. doi:10.1029/1999GL002342. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  10. "PIA01141: Geologic 'Face on Mars' Formation". NASA. 2 April 1998. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  11. "Mission to Mars: Viking Orbiter Images of Mars (Experiment Data Records)". PDS Imaging Node. NASA/JPL/USGS. Retrieved April 19, 2013. Raw data in the IMQ (ImageQ) format can be downloaded from these links: 035A72, 070A13, 561A25, 673B54, 673B56, 753A33, 753A34.
  12. JPL; NASA; Viking Mars Program (U.S.) (1990). Mission to Mars: Viking Orbiter Images of Mars (CD-ROM). Pasadena, CA: JPL. OCLC 232381148.
  13. Rayl, A.J.S. (March 16, 2007). "The Empire Strikes Back: Europe's First Trip to Mars Brings Home 'The Gold'". The Planetary Society. Archived from the original on March 4, 2012. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  14. "Viking 1-61 (35A72)". Viking News Center (Press release). Pasadena, CA: NASA/JPL. July 31, 1976. Retrieved April 19, 2013. Caption of JPL Viking Press Release P-17384.
  15. Hoagland, Richard C. (1996). The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever (4th ed.). Berkeley: Frog, Ltd. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-883319-30-4.
  16. Paranormal News Staff (August 25, 1999). "Pixel Inversion - NASA's Misinformation on the Mars Face". Paranormal News. Jeff Behnke. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  17. 1 2 Gardner, Martin (Winter 1985–1986). "The Great Stone Face and Other Nonmysteries" (PDF). Skeptical Inquirer. Amherst, New York: Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. 10 (2): 14–18. Retrieved April 18, 2013.
  18. "Popular Landform in Cydonia Region". HiRISE website. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  19. "Cydonia - the face on Mars". ESA. September 21, 2006. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  20. "Cydonia's 'Face on Mars' in 3D animation". ESA. October 23, 2006. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  21. Britt, Robert Roy (March 18, 2004). "Scientist attacks alien claims on Mars". CNN. Retrieved October 12, 2007.
  22. Normand Baillargeon, A Short Course in Intellectual Self Defense: Find Your Inner Chomsky, page 177 (Seven Stories Press, 2007). ISBN 978-1-58322-765-7
  23. Charles M. Wynn, Arthur W. Wiggins, Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction: Where Real Science Ends... and Pseudoscience begins (Joseph Henry Press, 2001). ISBN 0-309-17135-0
  24. "The Face on Mars". Image of the Day Gallery. NASA. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  25. Dunning, Brian (April 22, 2008). "Skeptoid #97: The Face on Mars Revealed". Skeptoid (Podcast). Skeptoid Media, Inc. Retrieved August 26, 2008.
  26. "Badlands Guardian Geological Feature". Google Maps. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  27. "Cydonia: Two Years Later". Malin Space Science Systems. April 5, 2000. Retrieved December 1, 2008.
  28. Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keith (August 17, 2007). "Alien archaeology on Mars?: The 'D&M Pyramid". Bad Archaeology. Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews and James Doeser. Retrieved December 1, 2008.
  29. Smukler, H. (1977). "Dramatic Photos of Mars: the Home of the Gods". Ancient Astronauts (January): 26.
  30. Grossinger, Richard, ed. (1986). Planetary Mysteries: Megaliths, Glaciers, the Face on Mars and Aboriginal Dreamtime. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. p. 11. ISBN 0-938190-90-3. Retrieved August 12, 2008.
  31. Hoagland, Richard (2002). The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever (5 ed.). North Atlantic Books, U.S. ISBN 978-1-58394-054-9.
  32. Sagan, Carl (1995). The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-53512-8.
  33. McDaniel, Stanley; Paxson, Monica Rix, eds. (1998). The Case for the Face: Scientists Examine The Evidence for Alien Artifacts on Mars (1st ed.). Adventure Unlimited Press. ISBN 978-0-932813-59-6.
  34. Posner, Gary P. (November–December 2000). "The Face Behind the 'Face' on Mars: A Skeptical Look at Richard C. Hoagland". Skeptical Inquirer. Amherst, New York: Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. 24 (6): 20–26. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  35. "More 'Faces' on Mars". Tampa Bay Skeptics. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  36. Golden, Fred (April 1985). "Skeptical Eye". Discover.
  37. Kirby Museum Archives
  38. PDF Download
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