The So-Called 'Face on Mars'

Scaled Image

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/ASU

About this image

The so called ';Face on Mars'; can be seen slightly above center and to the right in this THEMIS visible image. This 3-km long knob, located near 40deg N, 10deg W (350deg E), was first imaged by the Viking spacecraft in the 1970's and was seen by some to resemble a face carved into the rocks of Mars. Since that time the Mars Orbiter Camera on the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft has provided detailed views of this hill that clearly show that it is a normal geologic feature with slopes and ridges carved by eons of wind and downslope motion due to gravity. A similar-size hill in Phoenix, Arizona resembles a camel lying on the ground, and Phoenicians whimsically refer to it as Camelback Mountain. Like the hills and knobs of Mars, however, Camelback Mountain was carved into its unusual shape by thousands of years of erosion. The THEMIS image provides a broad perspective of the landscape in this region, showing numerous knobs and hills that have been eroded into a remarkable array of different shapes. Many of these knobs,including the 'Face', have several flat ledges partway up the hill slopes. These ledges are made of more resistant layers of rock and are the last remnants of layers that once were continuous across this entire region. Erosion has completely removed these layers in most places, leaving behind only the small isolated hills and knobs seen today. Many of the hills and ridges in this area also show unusual deposits of material that occur preferentially on the cold, north-facing slopes. It has been suggested that these deposits were 'pasted' on the slopes, with the distinct, rounded boundary on their upslope edges being the highest remaining point of this pasted-on layer. In several locations, such as in the large knob directly south of the 'Face', these deposits occur at several different heights on the hill. This observation suggests the layer once draped the entire knob and has since been removed from all but the north-facing slopes. The presence of water ice in these layers is a likely possibility to account for their preservation only on the colder surfaces. Alternatively, these unique features could be the result of the slow downslope motion of the surface layer, possibly enhanced by the presence of ground ice. One argument against downslope motion is the observation that the uppermost rounded boundary of these layers typically occurs at approximately the same distance below the ridge crest. This would suggest the (seemingly) unlikely possibility that all of these layers had moved downslope the same amount regardless of where they are located. In either case, ground ice likely plays an important role in the formation and preservation of these deposits because they only occur on the cold slopes facing away from the Sun where ground ice is more stable and may still be present today.

Please see the THEMIS Data Citation Note for details on crediting THEMIS images. 


Image ID: 
V01024003 (View data in Mars Image Explorer)
2002-03-08 14:55
Sat, 2002-04-13
1024 pixels (19 km)
3648 pixels (69 km)
0.018981 km/pixel
0.019119 km/pixel


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