The mysterious "Face on Mars" is almost certainly an artificial structure, astronomer Dr. Tom Van Flandern told a major astronomical conference on Wednesday, January 7.
Van Flandern reached the conclusion after new studies of the Cydonia region of Mars, whose strangely artificial-looking landforms have been a focus of controversy for more than 15 years.
His report, presented at the 191st national meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Washington, attracted unusual attention because sharp new images of the "Face" may soon be available.
NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft is scheduled to begin its main imaging mission in 1999 after completing aerobraking maneuvers to finalize its orbit. But Global Surveyor is already taking remarkably clear images of the Martian surface, and Cydonia researchers are hopeful that a good shot of the controversial landforms might be taken later this year.
A few weeks ago, NASA officials publicly promised to re-image Cydonia at every opportunity.
Van Flandern, who holds a doctorate in astronomy from Yale University, was until 1991 the chief of the celestial mechanics branch at the U. S. Naval Observatory, a respected astronomy facility. He then founded Meta Research, an organization based in Washington, D.C., to explore topics considered out of step with mainstream astronomy. The "Face on Mars," he says, certainly fits that bill.
"The conventional view is that [the claim of artificial structures] is all nonsense," says Dr. Michael C. Malin, chief investigator for the Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter Camera.
Cydonia, Malin explains, 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.
But 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 location.
"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.
Addressing a standing-room-only audience of about 400 astronomers, Van Flandern added, "I suggest that in view of these test results we prepare ourselves for a cultural shock certainly unrivaled in recent times."
Original file name: CNI - Mars Face.more.final
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