The "Face" of Mars Revealed!

The European Space Agency has just published new, stereo close-ups of the famous "Face" on Mars. Taken by the ESA's Mars Explorer, the images show a rugged massif surrounded by a sloping lava plain that could, with a little imagination (and the right lighting), resemble a human skull.

The ESA site says that its engineers had tried unsuccessfully for two years to capture images of the geologic phenomenon in the Cydonia area, within the Arabia Terra region of Mars, but were frustrated by atmospheric dust and haze. Finally, in July, the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) onboard Mars Express got its shots under just the right conditions.

The "Face" has been a controversial feature of the Martian landscape for decades, after NASA published an image taken by the U.S. agency's Viking 1 Orbiter in 1976. When NASA released a statement that said the outcrop "resembles a human head," the race to create the most wild-eyed speculation as to what the coincidence meant was on. Including a number of surrounding formations in their accounts, the fabulous interpretations ranged from monuments built by space-faring civilizations to an ancient city built by a doomed Martian population. However, science has prevailed over the years and (largely) debunked the efforts of the sci-fi romantics, especially after the area was photographed in 1998 by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor.

According to the ESA, the images of the "Face" and its surroundings were assembled from three HRSC-color channels, creating perspective views calculated from the digital terrain model derived from the stereo and nadir channels.

"These images of the Cydonia region on Mars are truly spectacular," said Dr. Agustin Chicarro, a Mars Express project scientist. "They not only provide a completely fresh and detailed view of an area famous to fans of space myths worldwide, but also provide an impressive close-up over an area of great interest for planetary geologists, and show once more the high capability of the Mars Express camera."

A spokesperson for the "Face" was unavailable for comment.

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