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Tuesday, April 7, 1998 Published at 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK


'Face' on Mars just a trick of nature
image: [ Rocky issue: latest images show just sand ]
Rocky issue: latest images show just sand

There is no "face" on the Red Planet, according to pictures sent back from the orbitting Mars Global Surveyor.

[ image: The picture that started off the controversy in 1976]
The picture that started off the controversy in 1976
The BBC's science correspondent says the news will dampen down the controversy that has raged since images were transmitted back to Earth in 1976 from the Viking spacecraft.

In the Cydonia region, an area of isolated mountains and shifting deserts, Viking spotted a mountain that looked like a human face staring up into space.

While scientists said it was just a trick of nature, others argued that the so-called face was artificial, having been built by a long-dead Martian civilisation. They agreed though, that only with better pictures could the issue be resolved.

Now, at the start of its two-year mission to map the planet for landing sites for future unmanned probes, Mars Global Surveyor has finally settled the issue. Looked at in more detail the "face" becomes just a pile of rocks and sand.


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