The high-resolution image on the right (taken by the Mars Orbiter Camera aboard the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft) shows the famous "Face on Mars," first documented in 1976. In the original image (left) taken by Viking 1, one of thousands of buttes, mesas, ridges, and knobs on the northern plains of Mars looked somewhat like a human face.

Photographs by NASA/JPL

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    On July 25, 1976, NASA’s Viking-1 satellite captured the famous “Face on Mars” image. The image does not contain a face at all, of course! It is a satellite image of the geography of the Cydonia region of the Red Planet, including hills, valleys, and mesas.
     
    The “Face on Mars” is a type of optical illusion called pareidolia. Pareidolia involves seeing or hearing something familiar in an unfamiliar setting. Seeing the shapes of animals in clouds is an example of pareidolia.
     
    Another example of pareidolia is the rabbit many cultures see in the craters of the Moon. Yet another is the “Guardian of the Badlands,” a hilly area near Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. Viewed with satellite imagery, the hills create what looks like the profile of a man in full Native American headdress—wearing earphones. 
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    cloud Noun

    visible mass of tiny water droplets or ice crystals in Earth's atmosphere.

    Encyclopedic Entry: cloud
    crater Noun

    bowl-shaped depression formed by a volcanic eruption or impact of a meteorite.

    Encyclopedic Entry: crater
    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    eliminate Verb

    to remove.

    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    headdress Noun

    covering, often decorative or ceremonial, for the head.

    hill Noun

    land that rises above its surroundings and has a rounded summit, usually less than 300 meters (1,000 feet).

    Encyclopedic Entry: hill
    Mars Noun

    fourth planet from the sun, between Earth and Jupiter.

    mesa Noun

    broad, flat-topped landform with steep sides.

    Encyclopedic Entry: mesa
    NASA Noun

    (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) the U.S. space agency, whose mission statement is "To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind."

    Native American Noun

    person whose ancestors were native inhabitants of North or South America. Native American usually does not include Eskimo or Hawaiian people.

    optical illusion Noun

    image seen by the eyes that is different than what is actually there.

    pareidolia Noun

    optical illusion involving the perception of a familiar pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist.

    profile Noun

    outline of a face or body, especially as seen from the side.

    region Noun

    any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    satellite Noun

    object that orbits around something else. Satellites can be natural, like moons, or made by people.

    satellite imagery Noun

    photographs of a planet taken by or from a satellite.

    valley Noun

    depression in the Earth between hills.