Mars, Face on

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Mars, Face on

In 1977, electrical engineer Vincent DiPietro discovered a photograph released the previous year by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of what appeared to be a stone structure in the shape of a human face on the surface of Mars. The picture had been taken by the Viking spacecraft. Working with a colleague, Gregory Molenaar, DiPietro had the picture computer-enhanced and in 1982 they published a book, Unusual Martian Surface Features, displaying their results. Other nearby structures included a pyramid and a grid-like pattern that some saw as the remnants of a city.

The DiPietro/Molenaar book attracted the attention of former museum curator and journalist Richard Hoagland. A self-educated scientist, the widely read Hoagland had placed himself in the midst of several space-related controversies. In the early 1980s he added his voice to several speculative scientists in suggesting the possibility of life on Jupiter's frozen moon Europa. In the mid-1980s he emerged as an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of artificial structures on Mars. In 1987 he published a book, The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever, which remains the most cogent statement of the argument. Hoagland's claims found significant support in 1997 in The Martian Enigmas: A Closer Look, by Mark Carlotto. Carlotto, a processing engineer, worked with the images and demonstrated their three-dimensional nature. His work provided evidence that, whether natural or artificial, the structures were not a simple simulacra, natural objects that looked like something recognizably human (e.g., a pane of glass which appears to have a face in it). Most simulacra disappear when the object is viewed from a different angle or the lighting direction is changed.

The existence of such structures on Mars, should they prove to be artificial, would have far-reaching implications concerning the place of humans in the solar system and the order of things. There is no place for the construction of such objects in human history as it is currently constructed. Those who accept the possibility that the face, the pyramid, and related structures are artificial, have been integrated into the alternative histories theories that advocate humanity's ancient contacts with extraterrestials. Such alternative histories have been constructed by researchers like Zecharia Sitchin and Alan F. Alford.

Through the 1990s, scientists at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have held to the position adopted when the pictures were initially examined in 1976. They are natural objects that just happen to resemble what some have suggested they are. They have noted that similar objects, such as naturally formed pyramids, may be found on Earth. In the meantime, Hoagland has pressed the case for the Face on Mars and has appeared a number of times on the popular late-night radio talkshow hosted by Art Bell.

The controversy continues, primarily on the fringe of the UFO community, and its ultimate resolution would be possible only with the landing of scientists on Mars and an immediate examination of the artifacts. Hoagland organized a team to study the huge files of photos released by NASA for other possible intelligently constructed artifacts and on several occasions has presented the findings to NASA and to Congressional committees. Those interested in the artifacts, all located in a region of Mars known as Cydonia, forced NASA to include it in their 1999 fly-by of Mars, but the new pictures were no more conclusive than were the earlier ones.

Through the 1990s, Hoagland has developed a conspiracy-theory approach to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and has suggested that they are withholding vital data that would support and further explain his belief concerning the possible ruins on Mars. His ideas may be found at his expansive Internet site, The Enterprise Mission, Hoagland's research project, may be contacted at P.O. Box 1130, Placitas, NM 87043.


Carlotto, Mark J. The Martian Enigmas: A Closer Look. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 1997.

Gardner, Martin. "The Great Stone Face." In The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1988, 72-78.

Hoagland, Richard. The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever. 1987. 4th ed. Frog Ltd., 1996.

Molenaar, Gregory, and Vincent DiPietro. Unusual Martian Surface Features. Glen Dale, Md.: Mars Research, 1982.