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Thursday, 9 April, 1998, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
Why do some still believe the 'face' is artificial?
Remarkable claims require remarkable proof if they are to be believed and the claim that there is a 'face' on Mars carved out of a mountain by a now extinct civilization is certainly a very remarkable claim, writes our science editor David Whitehouse.

It began in 1976 when one of the two Viking spacecraft sent to Mars that year photographed the Cydonia area, a region of crumbled mountains and shifting deserts.

Is this a face?
Is this a face?
It is a remarkable place that tells scientists a lot about the surface of Mars and how its weather systems erode surface features.

One mountain however looks like a face staring up into the cosmos. Is it artificial or just a trick of nature?

Inspired by what they believed was obviously an artifact from an ancient civilization some started creating mythologies about its builders. In the main they were wild speculation based on half-baked ideas.

There are thousands upon thousands of mountains on Mars and it isn't all that surprising that one of them looks like a face. Humans are programmed to see faces. Show two black dots on a piece of card to a newborn baby and it will smile because it believes it's seen its mothers face.

We see faces all around us, in clouds and in the patterns on curtains and carpets. Is it surprising that our attention was drawn to a face-shaped mountain on Mars?

The 1976 Viking image
The 1976 Viking image
But of course there are some who won't see a pile of rocks for what it is. There is a conspiracy it is claimed and some have accused us of going along with it.

No doubt there are some who will scrutinize the new image of the 'face' and point out that this group of rocks and that group of rocks form a structure that couldn't be natural. All they're doing is fooling themselves into seeing patterns in natural formations.

Look at the image again. It is just a pile of rocks and sand. If the image sent back by the Mars Global Surveyor was the only image we had of this region we wouldn't have looked at it twice.

Sadly, there is no evidence of an ancient civilization among the crumbling mountains and shifting sand dunes of Mars.

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04 Apr 98 | Sci/Tech
Mars faces up to the cameras
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