Cameras aboard the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft will attempt over the next month to photograph the so-called “Face on Mars,” a large, intriguing geological feature that some believe was fashioned by an alien intelligence.
The probe should have three opportunities to turn its cameras on the Cydonia region, the site of the apelike face, as well as the landing sites of the Mars Pathfinder and old Viking probes, NASA said Friday.
The Cydonia face was initially photographed in 1976 by NASA’s Viking 1 Mars probe. Nine images of the site were beamed back to Earth among hundreds of others. Though the images show a simian resemblance, space agency scientists have long contended the facelike appearance is probably an accident of erosive winds and water, and shadow.
“Most scientists believe that everything we’ve seen on Mars is of natural origin,” said Carl Pilcher, director of science for the division of solar system exploration at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “However, we also believe it is appropriate to seek to resolve speculation about features in the Cydonia region by obtaining images when it is possible to do so.”
Cameras and other instruments aboard the Mars Global Surveyor were turned Friday, but spokesmen at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where the mission is managed, said it would take them several days to predict when the Cydonia images will be taken.
Mission manager Glenn Cunningham said that over the next month there should be three opportunities to photograph Cydonia as well as the July 4, 1997, landing site of the Mars Pathfinder probe and the sites of the long defunct Viking surface probes. The successful Viking 1 and 2 missions were launched in 1975.
Global Surveyor is circling the Red Planet once every 12 hours in an egg-shaped orbit with a low point of 106 miles and a high point of 11,100 miles. Late this week, controllers suspended until September efforts to gradually lower the probe into a closer circular orbit by dipping the spacecraft into the planet’s thin atmosphere during each orbital pass.
The low-altitude, circular orbit for the systematic photographic survey of Mars will not be achieved until March 1999, the space agency said.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MARS ONLINE NASA plans to post the images Global Surveyor snaps of the Face on Mars on its World Wide Web site: www.jpl.nasa.gov/marsnews