Part of the show Science Question and Answer - New Horizons Mission
Many of you out there will be familiar with the image taken by the Viking 1 spacecraft that appears to show a giant face sculpted into the Landscape of Mars, but new image by the European Space Agency orbiter, Mars Express, have shed new light on the area. All sorts of conspiracy theories have used the iconic image as evidence that there was once a civilisation on Mars that constructed the huge human looking image and the area has formed the setting of numerous science fiction stories. However the new photos show that the face is actually a fairly ordinary looking hill. The eye sockets and mouth are depressions separated by a raised mound that forms the nose. However the new detailed images do not look at all artificial and instead show the hill as a fairly plain natural occurrence. The face interpretation probably comes from a combination of effects. Firstly the contrast was significantly enhanced on the original Viking images to allow scientists to more clearly see faint surface features. Secondly humans are very good at recognising faces, an essential ability that allows us to tell each other apart. Unfortunately this can allow our brain to be fooled into thinking that unrelated patterns are actually faces, as has been the case here on Mars.