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Scientist Believes Martian 'Face' Is No Accident Of Nature

WASHINGTON (January 8, 1998 00:07 a.m. EST
-- The mysterious "Face on Mars" is not an optical illusion or a
natural feature on the Red Planet, a scientist reported Wednesday
at a major astronomical conference.

Dr. Tom Van Flandern reached the conclusion after new studies of
the Cydonia region, where strange-looking landforms have excited
science fiction and life-on-other-worlds buffs for decades.

His report, presented at the 191st national meeting of the
American Astronomical Society (AAS), attracted unusual attention
because sharp new images of the "Face" may soon be available. The
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Global Surveyor
spacecraft, now orbiting Mars, is scheduled to begin imaging in

Global Surveyor's camera is capable of making images with 30
times the resolution, or sharpness, of the Viking cameras. It can
distinguish objects as small as 4.6 feet across, and will try to
image the "Face."

Van Flandern holds a doctorate in astronomy from Yale University.
Until 1991, he was chief of the celestial mechanics branch at the
U. S. Naval Observatory, a respected astronomy facility. He then
founded Meta Research, an organization based here, that fosters
research on topics that conflict with mainstream theories in

The "Face on Mars," he explained, certainly fits that bill. Some
people claim that images of the Cydonia region, taken in the
1970s from the Viking spacecraft, show a gigantic human face, a
pyramid, and other structures left by some ancient
extra-terrestrial civilization.

In the eyes of some, the "Face" bears a striking resemblance to
the "death masks" that ancient Egyptians used to adorn the
sarcophagus of King Tut and other rulers. Indeed, some hint that
the "Face" may be part of an immense tomb on the Red Planet.

Believers have come up with all kinds of intricate mathematical
relationships between the Face and several associated landforms
that supposedly prove the structures are artificial.

Conspiracy theories, charging NASA and the military with a
cover-up, also abound.

"The conventional view is that this is all nonsense," says Dr.
Michael C. Malin. He is chief investigator for the Mars Global
Surveyor Orbiter Camera.

Cydonia, he explained, is a desert-like region that has undergone
the same kinds of weathering that carve weird landforms in
terrestrial deserts. He regards the features at Cydonia as
strictly natural, the result of Martian weathering and erosion.

Van Flandern said his study undermines the main argument against
an artificial origin for the "Face:" Its apparently random
orientation on the Martian surface.

"No apparent purpose is served by a face monument looking upward
toward space if it is not oriented right-side up and in an
attention-getting location with respect to the surface of the
planet," he said.

On Earth, one such location, visible for great distances from
space, might be right on the equator, he indicated.

Van Flandern analyzed data from previous studies showing that the
Martian north and south poles occupied a different position in
the past. A meteor impact or other cataclysmic event relocated
the poles to their current position millions of years ago. He
concluded that the "Face" originally was in a much different

"It was a great shock to me to discover that the Cydonia area was
right on the old Martian equator," he said.

Further analysis showed that the "Face" is oriented perpendicular
to that old equator. The bridge of its "nose" is oriented almost
exactly north-to-south.

"This has only about a 1 percent probability of occurring by
chance," Dr. Van Flandern said. "The weight of existing evidence
appears to have shifted in favor of an artificial origin of the
Cydonia complex."

Van Flandern predicted that the Mars Global Surveyor's
high-resolution cameras will finally determine whether the "Face"
is a natural geologic structure, or something constructed by an
earlier civilization.

Almost as an afterthought, he observed to a standing-room- only
audience of about 400 astronomers, "I suggest that in view of
these test results we prepare ourselves for a cultural shock
certainly unrivaled in recent times."

By MICHAEL WOODS, Toledo Blade

Copyright 1998
Found in the electronic edition of The Nando Times. URL:
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