The Face On Mars

Many people have heard of the spooky “face on Mars” and the associated conspiracy to cover it up.

Fewer realize that it was a deliberately constructed optical illusion that gained prominence thanks primarily to this guy. Check out his Wikipedia entry. It’s a good read. My personal favorite part is his claim to have created 16 new equations to go along with Maxwell’s Equations. You know, because the entire field of electromagnetics just wasn’t good enough.

He’s more famous for insisting that artificial structures (i.e. Face on Mars) exist on various planets and that NASA is engaged in a cover-up operation to suppress public knowledge of aliens. I’m guessing that his argument is that the Face on Mars is supposed to be a signal to humans that there’s life on Mars. Only in the realm of the conspiracy theorist is it easier to construct a massive stone megalith to signal another planet rather than build a simple radio transmitter out of a power source and some wire.




Anyway, that discussion is not why you came here. Let’s look at some pictures of Martian faces!

NASA raw image of Mars
NASA raw image of Mars

Looks pretty normal, right? Back in the 1970s, NASA would not have had our modern computing power to throw at image processing. Even with a high end GPU working, many image processing techniques require a bit of time to run. Let’s look at the results of some edge detection and denoising filtering.

Processed NASA image of Mars
Processed NASA image of Mars

You can almost see it… Let’s zoom in and rotate a little bit.

Throw in a little post processing...
Throw in a little post processing…

Ok, now let’s be a little shady (no pun intended). Suppose you want to process the image in such a way as to create a sensational story like the guy mentioned above. What if there was some creative shadowing going on? You know, just to highlight certain features…

Add in some shadows..
Add in some shadows..

That guy looks familiar. The human brain fills in the rest of the illusion for us since we’re hardwired to recognize faces from abstract shapes. The Face on Mars is just a 1970s optical illusion created from image processing of low-resolution photography.

Just for fun, let’s look at a recent high-resolution picture taken of the same area.

This looks much less spooky (unless you're afraid of rocks).
This looks much less spooky (unless you’re afraid of rocks).

I think that image stands on its own for debunking the Face on Mars conspiracy. No amount of creative shadowing is going to make that look like a human face. Low resolution imagery has long been the hallmark of the conspiracy theorist. Our natural propensity for filling in for what we want to see is what causes these types of sensational stories to take root and grow.

Questions or comments? Be sure to leave one below!