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Face on Mars or Rocky Hill? New Photo Reveals Truth

Face on Mars?

At left, the famous 1976 image from Viking that seems to show a face. On the right, a new image of the same rock surface. Taken from much closer and in higher resolution, the features completely disappear. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

A new image just released by NASA confirms what the space agency has said all along: That's no face on Mars. It's just a rocky mesa.

In 1976, NASA's Viking space craft first captured the stunning picture of the area, showing what clearly looked like a face on the surface of Mars.

Conspiracy theorists went bonkers, describing the image as clear proof both that Martians existed and that NASA and the government were aware of their existence.

The new image comes from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera (HiRISE) on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a multipurpose satellite designed to explore the Red planet from orbit. In 2007, the camera captured this new picture of the eroded mesa made famous by its similarity to a human face. 

NASA finally release the new image on Wednesday. 

Taken from much nearer to the planet and with a substantially higher resolution camera, the features so distinctive in the original image completely vanish in the new one. The original Viking Orbiter image had much lower spatial resolution and a different lighting geometry, factors that led to the optical illusion. 

The face turns out to be a mesa -- a rocky outcropping -- in the Cydonia region that's a couple of miles long and a few hundred feet high.

Conspiracy theorists had long insisted that the face was an artifact from an ancient Martian civilization and the center of a NASA cover-up. Compared to the original Viking image, HiRISE shows incredible detail, even from its orbit 300 kilometers above the surface of the planet, and should put to rest all those conspiracy theories about Martian sculptors trying to sending us messages.

The HiRISE camera returns images of the Martian surface with higher resolution than ever seen before from an orbiter, allowing scientists to see extraordinary detail in all kinds of surface features on the red planet.