European space probe unmasks "face" on Mars

Tuesday, September 26th 2006, 6:08 am
By: News On 6

BERLIN (AP) For decades, photos of what appeared to be a huge, face shaped rock formation on Mars, or even a statue of Elvis, fueled theories of intelligent life on the Red Planet.

But high resolution stereo cameras from the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter have debunked that myth with the clearest pictures yet of the region where the so called face was found, ESA has said.

``The face remains a figment of human imagination in a heavily eroded surface,'' the agency said in a statement.

According to Michael McKay, an ESA engineer on the team that sent Mars Express into orbit, the new photos are so much sharper that they reveal that the area on a 1976 photograph by NASA's Viking 1 orbiter is one of many such raised surfaces in the greater Cydonia region.

In 1998 and 2001, new, sharper pictures of the region were taken by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and revealed simply a rugged landform. But that didn't halt public speculation.

``People automatically thought, 'My goodness, it's a face. There must be intelligent life on Mars. Maybe the Martians built this huge monument to indicate that there is intelligent life and we should come and visit,''' McKay said. ``Other people squinting their eyes looked at it and thought Elvis, The King, is alive and on Mars.''

The so called Martian mesas are still interesting for planetary geologists. McKay said the photos can help analyze the geological processes that were at work to create the Cydonia region.