In 1976, a space probe orbiting Mars took a photograph of a formation on the surface of the planet which resembled a humanoid face. Is the formation the signature of an unknown intelligence or simply the work of erosion? At first glance, the implications of intelligent life on Mars—let alone an intelligence capable of carving a human likeness in the desert—seems absurd.
But regardless of first impressions, the Face on Mars remains a genuine scientific enigma. Its dimensions and geometry are suspiciously artificial-looking, as would be expected from an intentionally created monument. And rigorous computer modeling has put to rest the conventional wisdom that the Face is a fortuitous trick of light and shadow; the Face remains face-like when viewed from a variety of angles and illumination conditions.
Over the years, our collective dismissal of the Face has affected the very fabric of scientific methodology. For instance, when a confirming photograph of the Face arrived from Mars in April of 1998, technicians at Pasadena, CA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) obliterated it with an arsenal of arbitrary graphics filters before releasing it to the media.
With the mainstream press placated by what looked more like a two-dimensional footprint than a humanoid face, NASA hoped that the mystery would vanish. Instead, the Face—and other unusual features in the Cydonia Mensae region of Mars—became underground superstars. Hundreds of sites cropped up on the Web, many of them claiming that the Martian face must have been artificially created.

The Face in Context

The Face rests upon a rectangular platform and seems to have a linear adornment along its so-called “headdress,” which brings to mind the megalithic artwork found on Earth. But what is most intriguing is that the Mars Face is humanoid in structure, with an anatomically correct eye visible beneath a heavy brow, at least one nostril, and a gaping mouth.
Nearby lurks the City Pyramid, an enormous five-sided feature with suggestions of erosion around its edges, and an enigmatic feature dubbed the “Fort.” Both of these anomalies share the Face’s vertical axis and both are roughly the same size, implying architecture. Futhermore, the Cydonia region on Mars contains several intriguing small-scale Mounds that suggest deliberate mathematical arrangement, emphasizing the tetrahedral constant of 19.5 degrees.
Not only that, but the architectural resemblance is striking between Mounds P and E. Mound P is a bisymmetric, bunker-like feature accompanied by an elevated hexagon, whereas Mound E appears to be a weathered five-sided pyramid, not unlike the much larger City Pyramid, which is perched atop a shallow buried square. In the adjacent corner of the square, a smooth-edged tetrahedron pokes up from the accumulated dirt, also begging explanation.
Together with the vast D&M Pyramid to the south—and other unnatural-looking formations in the region—the Face appears to be part of a complex of artificial structures. Even if the Face were not present, the Fort and Mounds would certainly warrant further investigation.

Whose Face Is It, Anyway?

If the Face on Mars is artificial, how do we reconcile its humanoid likeness with its location on a supposedly dead planet?
The theory of panspermia—in which hibernating microscopic life is shuttled through space aboard comets and planetary debris—has become an increasingly accepted theory on the origins of life among exobiologists, who note that both Earth and Mars exchange tons of matter annually in the form of meteors.
In fact, some scientists have argued that life on Earth originated not on Earth itself but inside comets that crashed together during the formation of the solar system, potentially seeding both Earth and Mars with ready-made micro-organisms derived from the same genetic alphabet. If so, the hypothesized “Martians” who constructed the Face may be our relatives. For if lifeforms are indeed capable of hitching rides between planets, then life on Earth could have Martian ancestry, or Martian life could have terrestrial ancestry. Or Mars and Earth could host life that was originally foreign to both planets.
Theoretically, panspermia could even accelerate evolution on a recipient planet by importing new DNA sequences, or even simple organisms. The idea of bio-friendly planets being genetically jump-started threatens the prevailing wisdom that Mars was not “alive long enough” to produce advanced or intelligent life. If both Earth and Mars share a genetic heritage, it is possible that a human-like species could have evolved on Mars.
Although many believe that the Face on Mars must have something to do with humanity, there is the equally unsettling possibility that the Mars Face was constructed by alien beings who just happen to look similar to humans.

Mars in the Crossfire

In the three years that have passed since the Mars Global Surveyor probereturned its second glimpse of the Face, the scientific search for alienartifacts on the Martian surface has achieved an urgency offset only by the scoffing remarks offered by NASA and JPL, whose statements have led some to suggest that the experts either do not understand the workings of their own instruments or else feel threatened by the Face’s enduring mystery.
Self-proclaimed skeptics have continued their denouncements of the features in Cydonia. Yet debunkers who compared the Mars Face to natural profiles on Earth (such as New Hampshire’s former “Old Man of the Mountain”) ignore that the formations on Earth are only visible under limited viewing conditions. And NASA has continued to betray its pledge to reimage the Cydonia region.
At the same time, our understanding of Mars is changing. We now know that the rusted sands of our sister planet may harbor liquid water, a prerequisite for carbon-based organic chemistry. Not ony that, but notable scientists such as Arthur C. Clarke have stated that images from the Mars Global Surveyor show probable macroscopic lifeforms.
NASA refuses to comment, presumably because the discovery of life on Mars would encourage a manned mission to Mars, thus dealing a fatal blow to JPL’s Mars Exploration Program, which hinges solely on telerobotic orbiters and landers. But rather than drown in speculation, many scientists and curious laymen simply want to resolve the lingering question: is the Face artificial or a freakish natural formation?
As Stanley McDaniel has argued both online and in The McDaniel Report (his book on NASA’s scientific failure to investigate Cydonia), the Face on Mars offers a challenge to the prevailing Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) paradigm; perhaps “aliens” are not so alien after all!