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Mars Odyssey Spacecraft to Examine Face

NASA project scientist Steve Saunders has released a list of targets for the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, which includes the controversial Face. According to Saunders, "We’ve got a number of other high-priority targets that are of great interest to people in general." Although not equipped with a high-resolution camera, the Odyssey carries a Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS) designed to reveal the chemical composition of the Martian surface.

The Mars Odyssey orbiter.

The GRS's prospects for examining the Face are interesting to consider. The Face, if artificial, may be a sculpture utilizing indigenous Martian rock, in which case its chemical signature will not differ from that of the Cydonia desert. But if the Face's composition is more exotic, perhaps the Odyssey will uncover evidence pointing toward an artificial origin. One possibility is that portions of the wind-scoured western half of the Face will reveal the presence of a metallic substructure. The unusually well-defined "cells" surrounding the Face's western "eye," for example, may indicate a "recently" exposed structural matrix discernable to the Odyssey's GRS.

Richard Hoagland and Mike Bara have already argued that the collapse evident on the Face's lower-east portion may have been caused by a metal support structure literally rusting away. This implies that at least a portion of the Face formation might be hollow (a trait in keeping with the Arcology Hypothesis). Similarly, Lan Fleming has noted a dark crevasse along the Face's eastern perimeter that may be an opening into the Face's interior.

Unusual striated terrain marks a probable collapse on the Face's damaged side. The dark crescent on the bottom appears to be a deep chasm, suggesting that the Face is hollow.

Instruments such as the Gamma Ray Spectrometer may help in identifying materials consistent with artificiality until human explorers can inspect the Cydonia site firsthand. In the online journal New Frontiers in Science, Mark Carlotto notes that "it is unlikely that optical imagery will provide much more useful data on the Face" and recommends using radar as a means of exploring the Face's eastern side, which appears partially submerged in sand.

[Update (2-12-02): I was mistaken in implying that the Gamma Ray Spectrometer could resolve the Face. The instrument in question is actually the complimentary THEMIS instrument suite, as pointed out by Richard Hoagland and Mike Bara in On the other hand, the GRS is able to penetrate to a depth unreachable by THEMIS. Hopefully future instruments, such as the radar suggested by Mark Carlotto, will improve on the Odyssey's instrument package, making a directed search for artificial structure more viable. --M.T.]


The Martian "Sphinx"...Again

Mike Bara has posted an insightful original piece, in which he claimed to have identified a sphinx-like structure lurking near the Pathfinder landing site (see my article on page 22).

The floodplain at Sagan Memorial Station. The "sphinx" formation is just visible in front of the Twin Peaks.

I have no fundamental problems with Bara's rebuttal, with the exception that I am capable of seeing the sort of spatial differences described in his article. My primary problem with Bara's alleged sphinx is the daunting magnification needed to make it out; I'm simply not convinced we are looking at "complex geometric" (i.e., artificial) shapes.

Catfight! Image courtesy Kurt Jonach.

"North Knob" as seen from the Mars Global Surveyor. This square-based formation is only miles away from the Twin Peaks, suspected by some to be ruined pyramids.

North Knob's squared base is highlighted by J.P. Levasseur.

The "sphinx" might very well be two (or more) distinct objects, but I see no compelling reason to think they are anything than large boulders. (And no, my reticence is not due to an aversion to the implications of such a discovery, as Bara maintains.) Nevertheless, Bara intelligently counters my argument that the sphinx-feature would have necessarily succumbed to the flood that demolished the Twin Peaks, and offers a computer-rendered model of what he thinks he sees. And maybe he's right. But until astronauts are able to explore the Pathfinder floodplain, I predict the presence of a possible "sphinx" will remain infinitely debatable.


Compelling Similarities Between the Cliff and the Face

The Cydonia region, showing "City," "Face" and "Cliff" in context.

The enigmatic formation known as the "Cliff" exhibits similarities to the better-known Face, located directly to the west. In the image below, the upper section of the Cliff mesa is shown, revealing a feature not unlike the "headdress" on the Face. Perhaps more interestingly, there are two lines joined at precisely ninety-degrees (left of image), recalling the right angles that define the Face's framing mesa. Also visible is a descending trench not unlike the columnated crevasse located on the Face's upper eastern half. This feature intersects an unusual elliptical formation.

The upper portion of the Cliff reveals a gross resemblance to the Face's framing mesa. Note conspicuous right angle and other possible structural elements.

This columnated trench found on the Face's "headdress" recalls a similar formation atop the Cliff. Shape-from-shading image courtesy Chris Joseph.

This bright triangular feature is located on the west side of the Cliff mesa's vertical axis.

The remarkably straight, apparently segmented defile on top of the Cliff mesa appears to be composed of two planes joined in a triangle. The west-facing plane is noticeably wider than its eastern counterpart.

The Cliff is a large formation, spanning nearly twice the length of the Face. It seems far-fetched to assume that it was built without purpose. And given its matching orientation and proximity to the Face, it's not unreasonable to assume a specific architectural connection between the two features. In "The Monuments of Mars," Richard Hoagland suggests that the Cliff was built as an "artificial horizon," from which inhabitants of the "City" could observe stellar alignments unimpeded.

The Cliff as seen by Viking.

Viking imagery indicates there may be an additional structural anomaly below the central elevated "ramp." If so, perhaps future high-resolution images will assist in addressing this most unusual feature. Until then, I personally hope the Cliff will be targeted by the Mars Odyssey's Gamma Ray Spectrometer (see article above); if the "ramp"s artificial, its apparent state of preservation argues that it might be composed of materials other than rock.

More Similarities...

The unusual "hollowed out" mesa south of the Face is crowned by a conspicuous trench similar to that lining the top of the Cliff and the Face, as seen below.

The "Hollow." Image courtesy Mark Carlotto.

Lan Fleming of SPSR notes that this phenomenon may be natural, perhaps due to ancient Martian winds abrading the landforms under investigation. But in my experience, features such as this seem exclusive to the Cydonia region. Moreover, the features exhibiting geometric upper "trenches" are strange in other ways. This may indicate a common non-natural origin for Cydonia's bizarre formations. The aforementioned trenches may be remnants of strictly utilitarian architecture, or they could have aesthetic significance, as suggested by the Face's "headdress."

This ellipsoidal formation flanking the Main City Pyramid resembles the elliptical feature on the top of the Cliff.


Remaining Targets for Mars Global Surveyor

Two major Cydonia formations have yet to be imaged by the Mars Global Surveyor. Of these, the D&M Pyramid is the largest and most famous. Featuring odd "buttresses" and accompanied by an apparent "tunnel," the D&M was only partly imaged by the MGS in 1998 when the spacecraft managed to capture its northeast quadrant.

The D&M Pyramid. Shape-from-shading reveals apparant "tunnel" or opening. Image courtesy Mark Carlotto.

In the available image, the surface appears chaotic. A high-resolution view of the mysterious dark "tunnel" may prove especially invaluable, as such features are lacking elsewhere in Cydonia and may be the most explicit signature of intelligent design.

The "City," with the Rounded Formation at the far left. Image courtesy Mark Carlotto.

The Rounded Formation enlarged. Note base "platform."

The only principal feature left unimaged in the "City" area is the so-called "Platform Pyramid," or "Rounded Formation." The Rounded Formation appears to be a domed mass overlapping a heel-shaped "platform" similar to those surrounding the Face and Fort.

(For additional images of the formations under investigation, see the Photographic Evidence pages.)

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