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The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good "Face on Mars"

"If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?" -Abraham Lincoln










            All three figures are versions of the same high-resolution Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft image taken in the Cydonia region of Mars on 1998 April 5, showing the object called the "Face on Mars".

The Bad: Figure 2 is what the spacecraft actually saw. It is the raw image with "striping" (an artifact of the camera) removed, then adjusted in the standard way for brightness and contrast to make the view look more like what a human eye would see. (The spacecraft camera has a much greater range of light detection than the human eye.)

The Ugly: Figure 1 is a version of the same image released by Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to the media at a press conference the same afternoon as the image was received on Earth. According to their web site describing this image (, we read the following "image processing steps":

(1)  The image is sized down by interpolation by a factor of two to reduce some of the noise.

(2)  A long, narrow high-pass filter is applied in a vertical orientation to help reduce some of the instrument signature. This signature is seen as the streaking that is noticeable in the original data.

(3)  A long, narrow low-pass filter is applied in a horizontal orientation to create an intensity average for the image.

(4)  The results of these filtering operations are the stretched to approximate a Gaussian distribution.

(5)  The results of the high-pass and low-pass processing steps are averaged together to form the final product.

(6)  The image is flipped about the vertical axis to correct for the camera orientation.

            With the exception of step (6), the steps in this extraordinary recipe are without precedent in the space program, including the other 120,000 images received from the same spacecraft camera. The purpose of reproducing what is actually on Mars is not served by any of the first five steps. Step 1 reduces the image resolution, and hence its detail. Step 2 distorts and removes detail from the image, as may be appreciated from the definition of the "high-pass filter" from Adobe Photoshop (emphasis added): "Retains edge details in the specified radius where sharp color transitions occur and suppresses the rest of the image. The filter removes low-frequency detail in an image The filter is useful for extracting line art and large black-and-white areas from scanned images." Step 3 is the counterpart of step 2 in removing high-frequency detail from the image. Step 4 alters the contrast and produces the white streak seen running down the middle. Step 5 averages the two filtered images, further reducing contrast and detail.

            The purpose for taking this image was to satisfy public and scientific interest in the object interest that was based on the possibility that the object might be artificial. All scientists and media representatives, regardless of their position about the artificiality controversy, should object to the release of Figure 1, an image so altered away from its actual appearance that it defeated the purpose for obtaining the image to evaluate the artificiality hypothesis. They should object as well to the implied claim that the purpose of the recipe was to remove streaking in the raw image. And they should demand that NASA/JPL/MSSS do their own analysis of tests of the artificiality hypothesis and publish those conclusions so they can be properly addressed by other qualified scientists.

The Good: Data supplied with the image show that sunlight was arriving from a low altitude toward the lower right, corresponding to light from under the "chin" feature of the apparent face. Such lighting (like a flashlight held under one's chin) is known to distort the appearance of human faces. Moreover, the spacecraft and camera were located several hundred kilometers west (left) of the mesa at the time the photo was taken. This means the image shows the mesa from a low angle (about 45) to one side. Earlier lower-resolution images from other viewing angles provide enough detail to allow us to deduce a crude 3-dimensional model of the mesa. Then standard image processing techniques allow us to change the lighting so the light source is at a high angle, more normal for daytime viewing. And it allows us to change the mesa to the view we would see from overhead rather than the side-angle view. The results of these changes are shown in Figure 3. This should represent the most accurate of these three figures in approximating what is really on Mars.

For an animation showing the transition from Figure 2 to Figure 3 on a negative image, see (This requires a viewer for ".mov"-type videos, such as QuickTime.) See details and discussion at and the endnote in that article.

            For an actual overhead image of the Cydonia "Face" taken at a later date and discussion of the points of symmetry and non-symmetry, see For analysis and conclusions about the artificiality of the object, see, click link to "peer-reviewed journal publications", 7th entry on list: "Evidence of Planetary Artifacts" by T. Van Flandern, M. Carlotto, H. Crater, J. Erjavec, L. Fleming, J.P. Levasseur; also published in Infinite Energy 7, #40, 23-31 (2001).

            Also of possible interest to readers are some of the other face-like images seen on Mars, two of the better of which are shown in Figure 4 and Figure 5. On August 29, CNN showed this last image and described it as looking "like a Picasso in his cubist period". Additional anomalies relevant to the artificiality hypothesis may be viewed in our "Artificial Structures on Mars" presentation at

Tom Van Flandern