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Weekly Alibi Martians on the WWW

By Devin D. O'Leary

APRIL 20, 1998:  The Case of the Space-Based Face

Martian Mysteries on the WWW

On April 5, NASA posted raw data from their Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft on their Web site. The images were of the Cydonia region of Mars--most specifically of a lumpy land mass that has become known as "the face on Mars." The original images of the face were taken by the Viking spacecrafts in the mid-'70s. The new photos showed what most scientists had suspected--that the original "face" was merely a trick of light. Naturally, those who have built their careers out of analyzing the face remain unconvinced. People like former NASA consultant-turned-UFOlogist Richard Hoagland say the modern enhanced and filtered photos are still "too grainy and hard to see." Of course, these same people are quite content to go with 20-year-old photos that are far grainier and harder to see. So what do some of the folks out in Cyberspace have to say about this infamous Man on Mars controversy?

NSSDC Photo Gallery: Mars (nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/photoflgallery/photogallery-mars.html)--Here is NASA's official photo gallery site where the first images from Mars Global Surveyor were posted. The Mars page is packed with tons of cool images from the Red Planet (including shots from the recent Mars Rover mission). Under the innocuously titled "controversial features" section, we find "Mars Global Surveyor images of Cydonia." NASA does a surprisingly blunt job of acknowledging the fringe theories surrounding their planetary survey photos (they were, after all, the first ones to point out a funny little mountain range that looked "a little like a face" way back in 1975). Of course, these new photos prove that the "face" looks very little like a face. Also posted are fresh shots of the "pyramid-shaped" structures and the "Inca city" in the Cydonia region--all of which are equivalent to spotting the Virgin Mary in a tortilla or a pretty tugboat in a cloud.

AA&ES--The Face On Mars (dspace.dial.pipex.com/aaes/scispi/mars/index.htm)--This site reprints a March 1996 article from the Amateur Astronomy and Earth Sciences Journal. There's a fine chronicle of past Mars exploration (from Mariner 9 to the Global Surveyor) and a detailed history of the growth of the "face on Mars" phenomenon. A well researched (and fairly unbiased) timeline runs down the whole story--from the moment NASA pointed out their funny picture to reporters to the modern coterie of scientists, crackpots and conspiracy theorists who have made their living pondering the possibility of intelligent life on Mars. Of course, the article doesn't take into account recent developments, but it does accurately show the state of things before NASA's Global Surveyor revelations.

Views of the Solar System (bang.lanl.gov/solarsys/eng/homepage.htm)--Calvin J. Hamilton is an electrical engineer who has based his career on "image processing." By combining his career with his hobby (astronomy), Hamilton set out to create a Web site that gathered together all the high quality astronomical images available in cyberspace. The result is surely a Mecca for every budding astronomer in cyberspace. While the site does contain some damn fine pictures of each and every member of our solar system, there's only one planet we're interested in right now. Travel to the "Mars" page of Hamilton's site, and you'll find an entire section dedicated to the face. Hamilton's site contains even more photos than NASA's. Hamilton eschews all form of editorial comment, choosing instead to unload reams of raw data--including a step-by-step description of the image processing techniques applied to NASA's images. Among the numerous face photos (all from the Viking era) are several showing illuminations from different directions and some unique high-tech variants (stereo views, anaglyphic, topographic).

Face On Mars--Its Builders Identified (www2.eridu.co.uk/eridu/minisites/mars.html)--Here, we have the opposite end of the spectrum. An author by the name of Alan F. Alford manages to link the pyramids of Giza, some wooden poles found at Stonehenge, a stone temple in Lebanon and the Nasca lines in Peru with the face on Mars. He believes all were the result of powerful space aliens from the "mysterious Planet X." Among the detailed tidbits Alford drops is the knowledge that these "space gods" (Erich Von Daniken lives!) were able to travel "more than 10,000 miles per hour." Alford's most entertaining theory concerns certain pyramid-shaped constructs on Mars and the Great Pyramid of Giza, which he points out, has "chambers, passages and shafts (which) could have formed the functional components of a hydrogen gas-powered generator, fueled by water which was split into its constituent elements." Naturally, armed with such knowledge, it isn't hard for Alford to posit a Mars-based space station fueling passing flying saucers for their daily trips to ancient Babylon.

--Devin D. O'Leary

devin@alibi.com


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