In one of the images taken by Viking 1 on July 25, 1976, a 2 km (1.2 miles) long Cydonian mesa, had the appearance of a humanoid face. When the image was originally acquired, Viking chief scientist Gerry Soffen dismissed the "Face on Mars" in image 035A72 as a "trick of light and shadow". However, a second image, 070A13, also shows the "face", and was acquired 35 Viking orbits later at a different sun-angle from the 035A72 image. This latter discovery was made independently by Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar, two computer engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. DiPietro and Molenaar discovered the two misfiled images, Viking frames 035A72 and 070A13, while searching through NASA archives.
More than 20 years after the Viking 1 images were taken, a succession of spacecraft visited Mars and made new observations of the Cydonia region. These spacecraft have included NASA's Mars Global Surveyor (1997–2006) and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2006-), and the European Space Agency's Mars Express probe (2003-). In contrast to the relatively low resolution of the Viking images of Cydonia, these new platforms afford much improved resolution. For instance, the Mars Express images are at a resolution of 14 m/pixel (46 ft/pixel) or better. By combining data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on the Mars Express probe and the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) on board NASA's Mars Global Surveyor it has been possible to create a three-dimensional representation of the "Face on Mars".
Since it was originally first imaged, the "face" has been near-universally accepted as an optical illusion, an example of the psychological phenomenon of pareidolia. After analysis of the higher resolution Mars Global Surveyor data NASA stated that "a detailed analysis of multiple images of this feature reveals a natural looking Martian hill whose illusory face-like appearance depends on the viewing angle and angle of illumination". Similar optical illusions can be found in the geology of Earth; examples include the Old Man of the Mountain, the Pedra da Gávea, the Old Man of Hoy, Stac Levenish and the Badlands Guardian.
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