2 min read

The Face On Mars Image

Many people have heard of the spooky "face on Mars" and the associated conspiracy to cover it up.

Fewer realize that it was a deliberately constructed optical illusion that gained prominence thanks to this guy. Check out his Wikipedia entry. It's a good read. My favorite part is his claim to have created 16 new equations to complement Maxwell's Equations. You know, because the entire field of electromagnetics wasn't good enough.

He's more famous for insisting that artificial structures (i.e. Face on Mars) exist on various planets and that NASA is engaged in a cover-up operation to suppress public knowledge of aliens. I'm guessing that he argues that the Face on Mars is supposed to signal humans that there's life on Mars. Only in the realm of the conspiracy theorist is it easier to construct a massive stone megalith to signal another planet rather than build a simple radio transmitter from a power source and some wire.

Anyway, that discussion is not why you came here. Let's look at some pictures of Martian faces!

NASA Raw Image of Mars

It looks pretty normal, right? In the 1970s, NASA would not have had our modern computing power to throw at image processing. Even with a high-end GPU working, many image processing techniques require some time to run. Let's look at the results of some edge detection and denoising filtering.

NASA Processed Image of Mars

You can almost see it... Let's zoom in and rotate a little bit.

Throw in a little post-processing.

Ok, now let's be shady (no pun intended). Suppose you want to process the image in such a way as to create a sensational story like the guy mentioned above. What if there was some creative shadowing going on? You know, to highlight certain features...

Adding in some shadowing...

That guy looks familiar. The human brain fills in the rest of the illusion since we're hardwired to recognize faces from abstract shapes. The Face on Mars is just a 1970s optical illusion created from image processing of low-resolution photography.

Just for fun, let's look at a recent high-resolution picture taken of the same area.

Much less spooky

I think that image stands alone for debunking the Face on Mars conspiracy. No amount of creative shadowing is going to make that look like a human face. Low-resolution imagery has long been the hallmark of the conspiracy theorist. Our natural propensity for filling in for what we want to see causes these sensational stories to take root and grow.

Questions or comments? Be sure to leave one below!