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PROOF THAT THE CYDONIA FACE ON MARS IS ARTIFICIAL

Tom Van Flandern, Meta Research [Reprinted from the Meta Research Bulletin 00/06/15]
** [addendum added in footnote on 00/08/14]**

 

Figure 1. Part of Viking image 70a13 showing “Face” at Cydonia. Contrast was adjusted separately on sunlit and shadowed (outlined) sides to bring out details of both at comparable lighting levels. Bright border of outline is an artefact of brightening everything inside the outline

Abstract:

The MGS spacecraft took a high-resolution photo of the “Face on Mars” in April, 1998. That image suffered from four handicaps: a low viewing angle; a low Sun angle from the direction under the “chin”; an almost complete lack of contrast; and enough cloudiness to scatter most of the light and eliminate shadows. To add to these difficult circumstances, JPL-MIPL personnel, apparently judging that the controversy over artificiality would not be ended when the actual photo was released, processed the image through two filters having the effect of flattening and suppressing image details. This step is documented at a JPL web site. Here we do image processing correctly and present the results of computer corrections to compensate for the poor lighting and low viewing angle. The actual image shows clearly the impropriety of the JPL-MIPL actions because the visual impression of artificiality persists. However, appearances after a discovery are not a valid basis for drawing conclusions, but only for forming hypotheses for further testing. This is called the a priori principle of scientific method. The 1976 Viking imagery allowed the formation of competing hypotheses, natural vs. artificial origin, and tests to distinguish them. When applied to the high-resolution MGS image of the Face, all artificiality predictions were fulfilled despite a lack of background noise. The combined a priori odds against a natural origin of the Face on Mars are 1021 to 1.

Background

The “Face” at Cydonia on Mars is shown in 1976 medium resolution Viking spacecraft image 70a13 in Figure 1, and in the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft strip-image SP1-22003 in Figure 2. The mesa is about 2.5 km tall by 2 km wide, and extends several hundred meters above ground level. The appearance is much less face-like in the high-resolution MGS image in Figure 2 than in the original Viking image in Figure 1 for the following reasons:

(1)   The MGS spacecraft took its image from a low-perspective angle well to the west, rather than from nearly overhead as in the Viking spacecraft view. Mainly the western half of the “Face” is seen in Figure 2, with the eastern half largely hidden behind the nose ridge.

(2)   Sunlight shines on the Face mesa from the low west in the Viking image, but from the low southeast in the MGS image. The latter tends to distort facial features, much like a flashlight held under the chin.

(3)   The Viking image had a normal variation of grayscale levels to provide contrast between adjacent features. The range of grayscale levels in the MGS image was inadequate to provide the amount of contrast normally utilized by the human eye.

(4)   Following analysis, it became apparent that the major face-like features on the mesa have the characteristic that they cast shadows that enhance the face-like appearance at almost any Sun-angle. For example, the eye socket is a depression that contains the shadow of its walls while the Sun is anywhere but overhead. It is similar for the mouth feature, which casts a shadow into the ravine between the lips at most times of day. The facial appearance is enhanced by such shadows, but is difficult to separate from the background when the shadows are absent. By bad luck, the sunlight was so scattered by thin cloud cover that light on the Face was mainly ambient (omni-directional, shadow-free) light. This partially ameliorates difficulty (2), but creates a greater problem by removing one element important to the perceived appearance of the mesa.

 

Figure 2. Part of MGS image SP1-22003 showing “Face” at Cydonia. Inset locates “facial” features. Contrast is adjusted separately on the two sides, with the sunlit portions outlined. Dark border of outline is an artefact caused by darkening everything inside the outline to bring out its details.

Photographs of actual human faces and of face sculptures taken under similar viewing perspective and lighting conditions as prevailed for Figure 2 are commonly no longer recognizable as faces. The image in Figure 2 initially leaves the question of the degree to which the mesa resembles a face unresolved. Various features of Figure 2 can be cited on both sides of the issue.

Unfortunately for the objectivity that scientists are supposed to maintain, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) apparently was unhappy that the high-resolution image received by its spacecraft did not immediately settle the artificiality controversy. Strong public statements ridiculing the “Face” and the serious scientific investigation thereof had previously been issued by certain scientists working for JPL, Caltech (which owns JPL), and JPL contractors, and by other supporters of robotic space exploration (managed and controlled almost exclusively by JPL) over manned space exploration (for which little science or funding goes to JPL). Indeed, the laboratory and MSSS, its contractor for the MGS imaging mission, initially refused to take the high-resolution images of the “Face” on the stated grounds that it would be a waste of public funds and a slap at the integrity of the scientists in the program. They were ordered to take them anyway by NASA Headquarters.

When the first picture arrived at JPL, its Mission Image Processing Laboratory (MIPL) passed the image through two filters, a low-pass filter and a high-pass filter. It is difficult to see how usage of these filters on this image before release to the media could be scientifically justified. Indeed, usage of the high-pass filter gave an especially damaging impression. From Adobe’s Photoshop software, we find the following description of the function and purpose of this filter:

“High Pass Filter: Retains edge details … 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.”

The usage of these filters on the “Face” image is documented on the JPL web site <http://mpfwww.jpl.nasa. gov/mgs/target/CYD1/index.html>. The same day that the raw spacecraft image data was received at MSSS and posted to the Internet, the JPL Public Information Office (PIO) released the MIPL-created, filtered image shown in Figure 3 to the world media.

Figure 3. High-pass-filtered “Face” image released by JPL to the world media.

As a direct consequence of this act, it has become extraordinarily difficult to get material on this subject considered in the scientific community. For example, a technical abstract on the subject of Cydonia submitted by this author in the summer of 1998 for oral presentation to the Division of Planetary Science (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society was rejected. This was the only rejection of an abstract by a member in good standing at this meeting, with over 600 other abstracts accepted. Rejection of a member-submitted abstract is a rare event (unprecedented for this author) because presentation of papers before peers is the primary means of getting feedback before submitting written versions of papers to journals for peer review, and because justification of conclusions is not normally provided in an abstract. The DPS abstract review committee based its decision on the evidence they had seen with their own eyes in the image released by JPL-PIO to the media. On appeal, they reversed their decision and accepted the abstract for a late poster paper; but the damage had already been done. The subject matter of Cydonia and the “Face” on Mars was by then on a list of topics not suitable for consideration by certain mainstream technical journals such as Nature magazine. By editorial policy, papers on the subject of the “Face” can no longer receive peer review at that magazine.

Whatever your opinion about the artificiality of the “Face” may be, and whatever the actual merits of the issue may be, it seems beyond dispute that allowing world opinion to be based on the image in Figure 3 was scientifically inappropriate. When considering why this happened, we appear to be left with an unhappy choice between dishonesty and incompetence.

Correcting the Photographic Shortcomings of the MGS “Face”

So what would the Face mesa have looked like if the image had been taken under better lighting conditions from an overhead perspective? Modern computer image enhancement techniques can do an excellent job of simulating different lighting and perspectives without significant alteration or distortion of the image content. The results presented here are the combined efforts of three professionals skilled in computer graphics and image enhancement. Boris Starosta noted that, because of the abnormal lighting conditions, the negative of the April 1998 MGS Face image looked more like the 1976 Viking image than its positive. Boris began with the MGS negative (shown in the left panel of Figure 4), and switched the lighting so that the source of illumination was northwest (upper left) of the Face and creating shadows accordingly. This view is shown on the cover of this issue and in the center panel of Figure 4. Mark Carlotto had previously mapped heights on the Face using shape-from-shading and triangulation techniques, allowing him to change viewing angles, for example, to overhead. This process is called “orthorectification”. That view is shown in the right panel of Figure 4. Mark Kelly optimized the brightness and contrast for the purpose, then put the transition between these steps into an animation, available on our web site at <http://metaresearch.org>. The starting, middle, and end images from Kelly’s animation are shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Left: negative of the Face as seen by the MGS spacecraft in April, 1998. Center: Lighting source switched from SE to NW. Right: Viewing angle switched from 45° west to overhead. Click on above image to view full animation by Mark Kelly, whose web site is <www.electrobus.com>. Need an animation viewer? Click here and see link at end of page.


Before I studied image processing myself, I worried that the biases of the person doing the processing might contribute significantly to the image seen. Now that I am more familiar with the process, I can see that it uses objective, standardized computer techniques, and does not add features to an image that are not present in the original. The techniques used are more like focusing a camera – they change the camera’s view to one more like what the human eye would see if viewing directly. The exception is the left portion of the east (right-side) eye, which was hidden behind the nose ridge, and for which no data exists other than that in Figure 1. It was therefore filled out artistically by assuming symmetry with the other eye socket. ** [See footnote at end.] **

The JPL personnel who decided to release Figure 3 to the media were right about one thing. If they had released the unfiltered spacecraft image to the press, the controversy over artificiality of the Face would not have been settled in the minds of many fair-minded people.

Proof that the “Face” is Artificial

            The Viking images presented us with a mesa and a reason to suspect artificiality – its seemingly improbable humanoid-face-like appearance. However, as is well known, face-like images sometimes appear in clouds, profiles of mountains, and various other random or visually noisy scenes. Moreover, humans have a tendency to perceive order, even in the midst of chaos. A scientific principle known as the a priori principle, a part of scientific method, teaches us that judgments of the significance of unexpected findings in random data have ambiguous significance at best, and are generally not significant. This is simply because remarkably regular patterns frequently arise by chance, even when the a priori odds are billions to one against that happening.

For example, every deal of 13 playing cards gets the player 13 unique cards. The odds against being dealt those specific 13 cards are 635-billion-to-1. Yet every hand dealt yields 13 unique cards with the same long odds against that particular deal happening by chance. Whether the player receives 13 random cards or 13 spades, the odds against the unique result of the deal occurring by chance are the same.

            By contrast, if someone predicts before the deal takes place that he/she will be dealt 13 spades (or any 13 unique cards), and that prediction turns out to be correct, we may be certain, at odds of 635 billion to 1, that something other than chance was responsible for this successful prediction. Both scenarios involved the same event – a hand of 13 spades dealt to a particular player from a deck of 52 cards. In one case, no correct prediction was made in advance, nor was one possible. In the other case, a correct prediction in advance of the deal was made. The latter is an a priori prediction, meaning one made before the result is known. The expression a priori means “proceeding from a known or assumed cause to a necessarily related effect; deductive; based on a hypothesis or theory rather than on experiment or experience; made before or without examination; not [yet] supported by factual study.”

When an a priori prediction exists, the results then become a test of the hypothesis on which the prediction is based. A successful prediction tends to support the hypothesis that generated it, and a failed prediction tends to falsify the hypothesis that generated it. The degree of support or falsification depends on how probable or improbable it was that the prediction would happen or fail to happen by chance alone. A priori predictions are a valid basis for testing scientific hypotheses. A posteriori findings (made after the results are known, but still sometimes called “predictions”) are generally not a valid basis for drawing conclusions because their significance is, at best, ambiguous or indeterminate. The number of possible ways an a posteriori finding might have arisen by chance is usually vast and impossible to estimate in an unbiased way. Ignoring the results of an a priori prediction is no more valid scientifically than is drawing conclusions from the results of an a posteriori finding.

            As this applies to the “Face”, all Viking images were a posteriori, so no reliable conclusions could be drawn from the data initially available. However, the images did allow formulation of specific hypotheses for further testing. The competing models were:

  • The “Face” is an artificial structure built by an intelligent species (indigenous or visiting) and intended to depict the face of a member of a humanoid-like species, whether their own, ours, or some other.
  • The “Face” is of natural origin, resembling a humanoid face entirely by accidental chance combined with our predilection to see familiar patterns in otherwise non-ordered data.

With regard to some of the new data provided by the MGS images taken in 1998 or later with ten times greater resolution than the older (1976) Viking images, these competing hypotheses and their consequent predictions have a priori status. Scientific method attaches significance to the test results of predictions having a priori status. Disputing or ignoring the results of tests of a priori predictions, whichever way they go, is itself a form of a posteriori reasoning, generally of questionable validity because it violates the controls against bias imposed by scientific method.  

For example, the artificiality hypothesis predicts that an image intended to portray a humanoid face should have more than the primary facial features (eyes, nose, mouth) seen in the Viking images. At higher resolution, we ought to see secondary facial features such as eyebrows, pupils, nostrils, and lips, for which the resolution of the original Viking images was insufficient. The presence of such features in the MGS images would be significant new indicators of artificiality. Their existence by chance is highly improbable. And the prediction of their existence by the artificiality hypothesis is completely a priori.

By contrast, the natural-origin hypothesis predicts that the “Face” will look more fractal (e.g., more natural) at higher resolution. Any feature that resembled secondary facial features could do so only by chance, and would be expected to have poor correspondence with the expected size, shape, location, and orientation of real secondary facial features. Any such chance feature might also be expected to be part of a background containing many similar chance features.

              In Figure 2, it is possible to see details in the image (once the right correspondence to the Viking image is recognized) that might have been intended to portray each secondary facial feature – eyebrow, pupil, nostrils, and lips. These are more plainly visible in higher-magnification views with brightness and contrast adjusted for each area because of the limited contrast in the image. Such views may be inspected at <http://metaresearch.org> in the Cydonia section. Detailed study with image processing software shows that these secondary facial features exist where expected by the artificiality hypothesis, but nowhere else on the mesa. This rules out a background of many similar features from which we might pick out just ones that fulfill our expectations. Moreover, each feature is present at the expected location, having the expected size, shape, and orientation. The odds are against any of these features arising by chance, and against each feature having any of the four listed characteristics. Each of these probabilities has been carefully and conservatively estimated in a fuller treatment of this topic. [1] The combined odds against all of these features being present and having all expected characteristics to the degree actually present, when taken together with the absence of similar features in the background, exceed a thousand billion billion to one (1021 to 1).

              Strictly speaking, science does not prove physical hypotheses; it disproves them. In that sense, all we have done, technically, is rule out the natural origin hypothesis at the cited odds. However, unless we can formulate some other hypothesis competing with artificiality that makes similar a priori predictions, we are compelled to accept artificiality as the most reasonable explanation consistent with the a priori principle of scientific method.

 

[1] T. Van Flandern, H. Crater, J. Erjavec, L. Fleming & H. Moore (2000), Evidence of Planetary Artifacts, preprint available from Meta Research (may eventually be posted to <http://metaresearch.org>).

 

** Footnote added 00/08/14 **

            I have since learned that the last two sentences of this paragraph (immediately following Figure 4) are incorrect. Mark Kelly filled in the small, missing information using low-resolution Viking imagery, not artistically. This was based on Mark Carlotto’s shape-from-shading models that combine both Viking and MGS images (<http://www.newfrontiersinscience.com/martianenigmas/>). This answers concerns expressed about the reality of the extension of the mouth to the right (east) side of the Face, and the presence of a complete eye socket on that side. Both are real features, not artist’s concepts.

             Lan Fleming has done a critique of Kelly’s final image, available at <http://www.vgl.org/webfiles/mars/face/newface.htm>. He says, “While I pointed out what I see as a few flaws in [Kelly’s] enhancement, I think the overall work is valid and the result is powerful, which is why I went to the trouble of doing a critique of it.” If you have not already viewed the animated transition of the Face from the MGS lighting and viewing angle to the Viking lighting and viewing angle, it is well worth the effort. [animation]

 
 
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