The “Face 

on Mars” is 

nothing more 

than a natural







Face on Mars
CSICOP Press Release 
Gary Posner, a consultant for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and executive director of Tampa Bay Skeptics, probed the credentials and claims of Richard C. Hoagland in the November/December issue of Skeptical Inquirer. Hoagland, a science writer, is the author of the 1987 book The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever. The book lays out his vision of an ancient Martian metropolis, an idea based on images of supposed “ruins” shown in a 1976 NASA Viking mission photo.

    The “Face on Mars” is an outcropping of rock in the Cydonia region of Mars. The Viking 1 Orbiter photographed an image of this geographic feature in 1976. Catalogued as Plate #035A72, it shows a formation with the vague appearance of a human face. When the photo was released to the public, there was a surge of speculation that the image revealed an artificial structure built by intelligent life. In 1998, NASA released a Mars Global Surveyor image of the same outcropping. With different lighting and much higher resolution, this image clearly shows that the “Face on Mars” is nothing more than a natural geographical feature. Nevertheless, the wild claims persist, along with accusations of a NASA cover-up.

    Richard Hoagland has been a lighting rod in this charged atmosphere of anything-goes speculation and innuendo. But unlike many who see an ancient extraterrestrial culture and a cosmic message to humanity in the Cydonian rock, Hoagland is not easily dismissed. He seems to have the ear of NASA and a list of accomplishments in the history of space exploration. He has given two talks to NASA employees following the space agency’s own investigation of the “Face on Mars”; he was the first to conceive of an ocean beneath the crust of the Jovian moon Europa; and he was responsible for the Pioneer 10 and 11 plaques-humanity’s calling card to any intelligent beings who might stumble on these probes in interstellar space. All of this adds to Hoagland’s credibility-if you take the interpretation of the above-mentioned events at face value.

    Gary Posner investigated Hoagland’s contributions to astronomy and space exploration, looking to place Hoagland’s own image into higher resolution.

    As for his NASA appearances, a March 1990 appearance at the NASA’s Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, OH, Posner found that Hoagland was asked to talk as part of an “employee perk” presentation series, not because NASA was seriously examining his ideas. Posner’s questions to NASA also revealed that a later appearance in September also seemed to be more for novelty and entertainment than forging ahead in space science.

    In July 1990 on the “For the People” radio program, Hoagland proclaimed that “Carl [Sagan] for many years has been taking public credit for the Pioneer plaque which, of course, Eric Burgess and I conceived.” In November of that year he claimed that “Carl was involved with Eric Burgess and me in the design of [the] message.” But according to Posner, in 1990 correspondence between Carl Sagan and himself, Sagan stated that “Eric Burgess and Richard Hoagland did no more than suggest to me that a message be put aboard Pioneer 10 and 11. Frank Drake and I did the design and I was responsible for getting it through the White House and NASA approval process.”

    As for the hypothesis that there are oceans beneath the surface of Europa, none other than Arthur C. Clarke states in his 2010: Odyssey Two that the idea “was first proposed by Richard C. Hoagland in the magazine Star & Sky (“The Europa Enigma,” January, 1980).” However, Clarke himself seems to have been mistaken. John S. Lewis first proposed the idea in 1971 and several other scientists published articles in agreement during the 1970s. Posner found that Ralph Greenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington in Seattle has been trying for years to convince Hoagland to set the record straight-without success.

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© 2001 Oregonians for Rationality