New detailed photos from a European probe show that the most talked-about feature on the Red Planet was simply a trick of the light.
Space fans got excited in 1976 when America’s Viking 1 craft, in orbit around Mars, sent back a picture that looked remarkably like a human head staring back.
UFO groups swiftly decided that the face, in the Cydonia region of Mars, was evidence of aliens trying to contact the Earth.
Further features were found nearby which were said to resemble pyramids and a ruined city. And Nasa were accused of mounting a conspiracy to hide the truth.
Now new pictures just released, taken on July 22 with the High Resolution Stereo Camera aboard Mars Express, show the feature in astonishing detail. They confirm that it is simply a type of eroded hill, called a massif, and the “Face” was produced by the angle of light.
European Space Agency scientist Dr Agustin Chicarro said yesterday: “These images of the Cydonia region on Mars are truly spectacular.
“They not only provide a completely fresh and detailed view of an area so famous to fans of space myths all around the world, but also provide an impressive close-up over an area of great interest for planetary geologists.”
Mars Express is the robot spacecraft that carried Britain’s Beagle 2 to the Red Planet. Previous attempts by the probe to photograph Cydonia, in the Arabia Terra region, were foiled by dust and haze – which, of course, helped convince conspiracy theorists that they were victims of a cover-up.
The top picture shows one of the Mars Express images and the other is the Viking 1 image that started all the fuss.