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Episode 60: The Face on Mars, Part 2

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Recap: In the second of two parts, I review why the Face on Mars is best explained by pareidolia. Then I discuss Mark Carlotto's image analysis, other faces found by various people on Mars, and finally the conspiracy angle.

Puzzler in Episode 59 is being carried over to this episode.

Puzzler: Send in your favorite/best example of pareidolia from a planetary image.

Q&A: There was no Q&A this episode due to the length.

Additional Materials:


Claim: Last episode focused on the history of imaging the Face and some claims associated with it. This episode will get more into claims related to it but not necessarily specifically about it, various other faces people see on the planet, and some of the more fringe conspiracy theories.

Why it's Pareidolia

But to start out, I want to explicitly explain why this is simply an example of pareidolia, pareidolia being the phenomenon that was named at least 150 years ago where people see familiar features in what is general randomness.

Let's get it out of the way: that's what this is. The very first image of the site, Viking photo 035A72, showed what looked like a face on a roughly 50-pixel-tall feature that is now officially known as Cydonia Mensa, AKA, a mesa. Follow-up images at incredibly high resolution - and by incredibly high I mean instead of 250 meters per pixel closer to 0.25 meters per pixel, 1000x better - show it as nothing really recognizable as a face.

If we had images like this originally, people would likely NEVER have thought this looked like a face. But, because of the original, people now try very hard to see a face in an eroded hill.

Why do I say that? Because even on Coast to Coast AM, the late-night paranormal radio show begun by Art Bell over 20 years ago, people have different interpretations and see different features there. Richard Hoagland sees half of a human head and half of a lion's head. But he says that some people who look at it see only a lion's head or a generic cat head. George Haas and William Saunders see a highly ornamental and complicated nose and think it looks Mesoamerican, and William just happens to be a Mesoamerican art scholar. And others see Jesus. It's exemplified in this discussion from 2009, though it's unfortunate that they don't realize it: [Coast to Coast AM, September 17, 2009, Hour 1, starting 16:51]

George Noory: "Beyond the Face on Mars, do these structures pop right out to you two, or did you really have to look at them?"

George Haas: "Well, it sorta depends. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Um, some of them I could see -- I was sure there was evidence there was an image and ... I would look for day trying to pinpoint it, and suddenly it would pop out, and uh, you'd wonder how you missed it all along. ... But ... it's tricky ... they seem to be intentionally hidden. So, they're made to look like natural landforms but-- when they're really not."

I'm honestly not sure how you could have a better description of pareidolia related to geologic structures.

Another reason that some people, such as Nick Redfern, claim that it's real is that it's facing up: [Coast to Coast AM, February 14, 2011, Hour 2, starting 24:20]

"... that the face points upwards. In other words, if it's a carved structure - which I believe it is and Matt [Tonis] did - it has to be seen from above. ... This then provokes comments and observations with respect to space flight or at least aviation. You know you don't create something to be seen from above if there's nothing going on above you."

Apparently, it didn't occur to Nick Redfern that the reason that this feature is seen pointed up, and almost nothing is seen from the side in people's pareidolia of Mars, is that we predominantly have satellite imagery looking down on the planet! We only have some vistas from the ground in a few isolated locations.

As we got better and better images over the last 15 years, some people who thought it was artificial did realize that it's just a natural rock formation. Many still believe it's artificial and NASA is hiding it in some way. On the other extreme, there are some people who claim that the Viking images were of the artificial structure, but that either the failed Mars mission in 1992 of Mars Observer actually didn't fail but it was a bomb and we bombed the face, or that the Secret Space Program® people bombed it. When you get to that point, it's hard to argue with someone.

Mark Carlotto

I briefly mentioned Mark Carlotto last time because I didn't quite expect this material to be so expansive. I mentioned him in the context of having created a 3D model of the Cydonia Mensa from Viking images, but that if Richard Hoagland was correct in that half the face was hugely reflective, then Carlotto's models were very wrong. But Richard didn't think they were wrong.

Carlotto deserves much more of a discussion than that, so he's first up this episode after that whole part about it actually being pareidolia.

Conveniently, for a guy who did this stuff in the 1980s and '90s, Carlotto still has a website. And he's no dummy - Mark has published a fair amount on image analysis over the past three decades or so. And, to his credit, he generally qualifies his statements as one should, by saying that what he's arguing is his preferred interpretation as opposed to others who say that it can't be anything else.

Carlotto has done much more than I can address in this podcast episode. But, there's one thing in particular that I can talk about, and that's his initial analysis of the Face imagery back in the late '80s and early '90s. In doing this, I'm going through a page on his website, which I've linked to in the shownotes so you can follow along at home if you want.

The first thing that Carlotto did was to remove the "salt and pepper" noise from the original Viking image that we talked about last time. He did this with a 3x3 pixel Laplacian filter, which is basically the median filter I discussed in Episode 48. In other words, he effectively made up information that was missing in all cases of noise. Now, as I stated in Episode 48, that's not bad, or evil or anything else, but it means that the data that you put there is a guess based on the surrounding real information. In fact, he says that his threshold for noise was chosen so that his process did not "significantly distort the fine-scale detail in the image." So it did alter it in some cases.

He then both locally and over the entire image stretched the contrast to make darks darker and lights lighter.

The next thing Carlotto does is to put it effectively through a low-pass filter, meaning that big features will pop out but smaller ones will disappear. He does this to point out that there appear to be stripes going horizontally across the face in the original 035A72 Viking image, but not the 070A13 one. He says that since these are not aligned with the actual camera system, they can't be an artifact. In fact, he specifically says: "the scan lines ... cannot be caused by either the sensor or subsequent digital processing."

Unfortunately for him, we have much better images of the mesa now, and they're not present.

He next points out several thin lines. These actually are present in the unprocessed image and they are visible in the much higher-resolution versions we have today. Nothing artificial, though, and he doesn't claim they are.

The next part of his page talks about "Fine Structure in the Mouth Area," where he talks about seeing teeth. If you look at his image, the features are clearly originally only one pixel in size that look bigger because he's increased the image size. He says that because these one-pixel-sized features appear in both his images, though, that they're real. He dismisses the claim that they're image noise. But, with the benefit of much better images today, his teeth are missing.

The second main contribution to this whole thing is Carlotto's 3D modeling of the Face. To do this, you assume that the surface is going to reflect light a certain way. That way, if a part is fainter than another, then that's due to the angle that it is relative to you. If it's brighter, then it's at a different angle. You can use this to do what he did. But, as I just implied, it assumes a certain reflectivity. It's generally a good assumption for small local features, and his 3D version, while it looks crude and cartoony compared with what we have today, shows the very basic idea. He got the forehead area too high, but otherwise, it's about right.

So why the big deal? Because the original image of the mesa had it being 50 pixels in length. That means that anything Carlotto does is going to show the 3D face only 50 pixels in length. And, to reduce uncertainty, you should really bin the data as I discussed also in episode 48. If he does a basic 2x2 binning, we're talking about a feature that's about 16 by 25 pixels.

At this incredibly low resolution, the very few features that can really be seen -- what looks like an eye, nose, and mouth -- is going to be emphasized even more. So it's pareidolia again, but effectively enhancing it so even more people see the feature than before.

Again, Carlotto is really among least dishonest or self-deceived person when it comes to Face on Mars lore. He's couched his stuff generally by emphasizing that it's his interpretation, though he does believe it's real. But it's people like Richard Hoagland, George Haas, and William Saunders, who take Carlotto's work and say that it means what they think it means with much more certainty.

Other Faces

The next topic I want to briefly touch on is other faces. Again, more evidence that this stuff is pareidolia because a lot of what people see on Mars is faces. But aside from that, there are people who claim to see other faces in other places on Mars. There are entire websites devoted to it. In fact, I just wasted 15 minutes perusing them looking at all the examples of pareidolia that people have found.

Rather than really get into this in detail, I bring it up here more for completeness in the whole Face on Mars discussion: Besides "THE" face at Cydonia, innumerable people have scoured the hundreds of thousands of images we have of Mars and found their own examples of other faces. Many of them look like a face only to those whom discover it.

As an example, there's one called the "Crown Face" or "Little King Face" in an image taken about a decade ago. I posted the image, without saying where this face is in the image, to both the Facebook page for the site and my @PseudoAstro Twitter account. I asked people to find it.

Though I got over a dozen responses, NONE of them were the "official" face in that image. And FYI, to those who were frustrated by this, I posted the answer to the shownotes for this episode.

What this shows is that you can find something familiar in anything. And though many others may not see it, the people who do read into it an incredible amount. Michael Luckman, interviewed in 2002 about this face, talked about how half of it looked human and half of it looked ape-like. Of course, to him and Richard Hoagland, because it wasn't a perfect human face but a mix of two species in their eyes, it made the feature much more likely to be real. 'Cause we may see human faces, but monkey faces?

Government Motives and Alien Implications

As we travel more into the conspiracy side of the issue, there are a LARGE number of different ideas. Almost all have to do with aliens. Well, actually, ALL have to do with aliens, or at least all the ones that I've seen. It makes sense: If the basic premise is that THE Face, and other faces, are artificial and carved or created by people other than our current selves - and my careful wording there will be explained momentarily - then of course the implications of the Face being real have to do with life off of Earth.

Before I go further, let me explain the careful wording. I didn't say "Aliens" nor even "ETs" because of the numerous different ideas espoused by people in the field. I'm not going to do a detailed analysis of each because, as Brian Dunning likes to say (and I'm paraphrasing): You don't have to analyze the phenomenon if the phenomenon doesn't exist in the first place. I think I've done a fairly good job at this point of showing why the Face is just an example of pareidolia. So I mention these alien conspiracy ideas more for general interest and completeness.

For one of the more interesting, we turn again to Richard Hoagland. One of his - what he likes to call "models" - is that the Martians are actually us. We ARE the Martians. It was us, about 300-500 thousand years ago who carved the Face, and when Mars became uninhabitable, we came here. In fact Richard has claimed that the Nazis knew about this, that we are Martians, and all they wanted to do was return to Mars. I think if they'd just said that much, the rest of the world would've helped them, but that is a future episode.

So that's why I said "life off of Earth" rather than aliens or ETs. That's one of the ideas out there.

Another idea is of course Zecharia Sitchins', whom I discussed in Episode 23, the Fake Story of Planet X, Part 1. Sitchen claimed that Mars was effectively a waystation for the Annunaki aliens who came to Earth to create and enslave humanity to mine gold for them. I'm not sure if Sitchen ties the Face to them, but neo-Sitchin-ites definitely have.

A third idea is that the Face was built by an alien race that's long gone, but it was left there as a signpost of a dying civilization so that others would know they existed, like a monument.

A related fourth idea is that the Face was built by a long-gone alien race much like the monuments in the 2001 movie and book, to inform a much more advanced civilization that we've reached the space travel stage of technological evolution.

These are somewhat interesting ideas. I personally have nothing against them and think they'd make great sci-fi stories. But that's about it.

So with those alien implications, we have alleged reasons of why the government would cover it up. Or, why the government is slowly secretly releasing the information for those "In the Know" to find. As an aside, when investigating this stuff, it's almost like the Moon Hoax claims where there are an almost infinite number of permutations that are all self-contradictory -- the only thing that ties them together is the root idea that Cydonia Mensa is a artificial structure.

One person, Michael Luckman, claimed that the reason for NASA slowly releasing new images that prove the Face is artificial to those who know what to look for is that NASA wants more money: [Coast to Coast AM, February 13, 2002, starting 1:11:45 in]

(paraphrased): The fact that we have the image released means that they're trying to manipulate the public into wanting to go to Mars -> more money.

Granted, that was said in February 2002, and if that were the diabolical thinking, it obviously failed because NASA's funding is at an all-time low relative to the federal budget.

On the opposite side, you have people like Nick Redfern and Richard Hoagland who claim the reason that NASA is hiding or obfuscating the face is because of the Brookings report that they commissioned a half century ago that suggested people would be scared if ET life were real. That is a frequent refrain of Richard's and one that I'll be addressing in yet another future episode. But basically, they're doing this for the protection of government and society as a whole, goes the claim.

But, every time a new mission is launched, especially by different country, Richard thinks that we're one step closer to disclosure and that THIS will be the one that does it. Despite his insistence that NASA will never disclose because of the Brookings report.

John Brandenburg - who will also be the subject of a future episode on a Mars nuclear world war - put it this way: [Coast to Coast AM, September 1, 2011, Hour 4, starting 6:21 in]

When asked why "They" don't want us to know, it's 'cause Mars is connected to UFOs and if all that goes, then the government falls.

Along those lines, and something that I've saved for last, is another claim by Nick Redfern that is somewhat similar to Richard Hoagland's Martian Nazi idea: Nick thinks that there is ancient knowledge from a much more intelligent race of humans from Earth that has been passed down over the years to a select few. And, those people who have this knowledge, well, some of them were good guys and wanted to leak it out to the general public. So, they whispered it into the ears of people in Hollywood and other entertainment industries to help get it out. In fact, this was manifest in the 1950s when a simple comic book artist had a whole issue about a giant ancient face being on Mars and discovered by astronauts. Since that was before the space age, obviously the artist was tipped off by these people. Everyone who did some sort of leak like this had ties to, or had family members with ties to, or had friends who had ties to the military or CIA. But, after the Brookings report came out, all these leaks stopped.

When looking into this idea, the first thing to dismiss quickly is the claim that everyone who was allegedly involved in leaks of this Ancient Knowledge® had ties to, or had family members with ties to, or had friends who had ties to the military or CIA. That's everyone. Especially only 10-20 years after World War II. To point this out as evidence for the conspiracy is ridiculous.

Moving on, the reason I saved this for last is much like I saved the "Something on the Sun will do Something Bad" on December 21, 2012 episode for last: There's no definitive answer, and it's an interesting claim.

It is true that artist Jack Kirby, in Issue #2, "The Race for the Moon," published by Havey Comics in 1958, had a plot line that incorporated astronauts exploring Mars coming across a giant human face. A person falling in sees the destruction of a utopia-like Martian civilization of giant people. You can view the comic yourself online for free, I'll have a link in the show notes. The idea is that it's like a time capsule. Of course, it's vertical and very well preserved and OBVIOUSLY a face in the comics, looking nothing like Cydonia Mensa. But that's what a skeptic would say, I'm sure.

People more of the conspiracy mindset - and really, if you do an internet search on this stuff, that's ALL you get - of course have a different take. A blogger wrote in 2008: "Does this mean the CIA know [sic] we are about to be visited by 2,000 feet tall alien Gods?"

Someone on the conspiracy forums, "Above Top Secret" wrote, "I believe this standing-fallen argument is answered by the 10 percent real info-90 percent disinfo formula used by Hollywood and Print media, as well as education system. I am sure the puppet masters told them what to write, the writer took it as a vertical face, as well as its more dramatic to have the people climbing a sheer wall."

Another, more pragmatic person, wrote: "Interesting, but stuff happens. There was a novel published several years before the Titanic sank about a huge new passenger ship that was struck by ice and sank in the North Atlantic. It's name was the Titania. During WWII well before Hiroshima a science fiction author published a short story about another planet where one nation had developed a super-powerful bomb using radioactive materials. He got a lot of the details right--and a visit from the FBI. Still, this kind of thing makes you wonder if telepathy time travels backwards."

Other people have mentioned the remarkable similarity -- I mean, gee, both the Cydonia Mensa and Kirby's face both have what, in some light, looks like eyes, a nose, and mouth! Pretty amazing coincidence.

But in the end, this is one case where I can say that it's an interesting coincidence and that the minds of comic book artists and science fiction writers are likely to come up with something that, years later, will be shown to be real. Or, will have people claiming that it was shown to be real.

This isn't a case where I can say Jack Kirby absolutely positively was not an alien plant trying to get the word out. But, what I can do, and what I have done, is demonstrate that what people point to as The Face on Mars, and others like it, are much more consistent with random formations that, under some lighting, are going to look like something recognizable to some people.

It should also be emphasized that NASA is one of the most open agencies of the US federal government, and rules for all missions are that images have to be released either 6 months or 1 year after they were taken, unlike any other space agency in the world which has no such rules.

Finally, pareidolia is a powerful part of human psychology, and it should not be under-estimated when looking at hundreds or thousands of images of other worlds ... or, even our own.

Provide Your Comments:

Comments to date: 3. Page 1 of 1. Average Rating:

Daniel   Australia

7:22am on Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 

The Face on Mars is not a pareidolia at all and there is no real proof to prove it is!!! But there is however real proof that proves it was created by intelligent people and here it is.

Check this site out and you may think differently.

Lee Kalba   Location unknown

3:05am on Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 

Jack Kirby was not an alien, he was a god!
Jules Verne predicted space travel and submarines. There was a show on Science Channel produced by Ridley Scott called Profits of Science Fiction, dedicated to that idea.

Arnold   Hamilton Square, NJ

10:46am on Sunday, January 13th, 2013

My favorite planetary pareidolia; for a time I thought I was looking at North and South America. Clouds!

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