The Rectangle on Mars

Well folks, here is an interesting bit of weirdness. There is a rectangle on Mars!

This all started back in January. I was cleaning out the files on my old zip disks and ran into the Mars Global Surveyor images of the Face at Cydonia. Because I was bored, I loaded the images into Photo Deluxe and played with them for fun. Now Photo Deluxe has several filters for creating artistic effects in photos and other types of graphics. In this case, the edge finder yielded some interesting results. Apparently, there is a rectangle framing the Face. And, the Face appears to be roughly centered along the long axis of the rectangle. Also, some of the edges inside the Face appear to be aligned with the sides of the rectangle: see Images. Two days after I noticed this, I downloaded the original images from the NASA web site, and got the same results.

Please click on the images for a full size view

    Fig. 1  Enhanced Flat MGS Image         Fig. 2  Edge Finder Applied                   Fig. 3  View Oriented to Horizontal


The rectangle appears to be composed of a mixture of linear and fragmented objects. The objects appear to have linear alignment, and right angle intersections. The surface features that comprise the “face” are roughly aligned on the longer axis of the rectangle, and appear to be framed by the rectangle (this can be best seen in the oblique edge finderized views because orienting to horizontal view tends to distort vertical features while undistorting the horizontal features). A rough measurement of the proportions (length/width) of the rectangle, when the view is oriented to horizontal, indicate that it is within 4 percent of being a golden rectangle. That is, of being a rectangle based on the proportions of the golden ratio, or number. The golden number (t= 1.618033987,,,) goes back to ancient Greece. Basically, it is the ratio of the diagonal of a pentagon to one of it’s sides. In the ancient world, it was important because it was one of the first provable irrational numbers, and because it was the only solution to the golden rectangle problem. The golden rectangle was used in the art and architecture of the ancient world; for example, in the proportions of ancient temples in Greece, in works of art, and in Roman town plans. In analyzing the face, each of these points, linearity, alignment, right angles, and proportion, are important things to consider.

My Method

Ok, you don’t believe me. You think I doctored the images? Here is the method I used. You can use it to duplicate my results. First, get a copy of Adobe Photo Deluxe (I used version 1.0.1). Then, obtain a copy of the original Mars Global Surveyor image, and the enhanced, flat, image that NASA used to debunk the face (you can try the web sites of NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or Malin Space Science Systems).

Follow these steps:

  1. Load the image into Photo Deluxe and save it.
  2. Go to the Transform Photo Menu, then to Sketch, and use the edge Finder on the image.

  3. Then save the image under a different name.
  4. The face and rectangle will appear distorted because the MGS image was taken from an angle.

  5. For a better view, get the original image (you did save it?). Go to the Modify Menu, then to
    Size, and use the Distort feature to reorient the image to an approximately vertical view.
    You can tell that you are near vertical when the meteor crater (Ref. Voyager Images) in the
    lower left is circular. There will still be some distortion in the vertical relief features
    because the image was taken at an angle. Then repeat step 2. Looks neat, Huh? Then save it
    under yet another different name.
If you want to have even more fun (I will explain this below), do this.
  1. Reload the original image. Go to the Transform Photo Menu, then to Old Fashioned, then use

  2. the Blur filter, and repeat step 2 (or maybe step 3).
  3. Now, compare the results (be sure to save the transformed images under a separate name)

  4. with those from steps 2 and 3 (you should have about 4 images by now).
Note: the rectangle will show up in the original unenhanced MGS Cydonia image. Generally, the rectangle tends to fade out in the more highly enhanced versions of the Cydonia image. The images I used were cut down from 1024 pixels wide (in the full resolution image) to about 716 pixels wide in the “flat” image that NASA used to debunk the face, and to about 366 pixels wide in the “raw” image I used. In the full resolution image, the contrasts are too gradual for the edge finder to pick out the rectangle clearly. This is an example of “subsampling,” a process used to bring out low resolution details that are lost in high resolution details.


Ok, so what is this? Either we are looking at natural formations, or we are looking at artifacts. So, what is the answer? I did some thinking about this and have a speculation or two. When archaeologists photograph a site from the air, or use other types of imaging, they are usually looking for lines and edges. An ancient caravan trail will be revealed as a meandering line in the desert. A broken down wall will be revealed in a discoloration in the vegetation at sunset. An ancient foundation will show up as a shadow in an infrared photo. When I hit the image with Photo Deluxe’s edge finder, I should have gotten blobs, not a rectangle. I should have gotten the irregular edges of various boulders and cliffs. Later, as an experiment, I hit the image with Photo Deluxe’s blur filter, then the edge finder, and the rectangle became much more apparent. What the blur filter did was semi-merge the various pixels in the image. This cut down the definition of the edges of the minor features much more than the major ones, and so gave a better rectangle.

This leaves me with some questions to ask the skeptics:

  1. How likely is it that natural forces would create a rectangle?
  2. What about the proportions of the rectangle?
  3. How likely is it that natural forces would cause the features inside the rectangle to be centered within the rectangle? Note, look at the oblique angle images. In the images oriented to horizontal, the vertical features were distorted by the orientation process, while the horizontal features were undistorted by the process.
  4. How likely is it that natural forces would cause be linear edge features within the rectangle that seem to line up with the sides of the rectangle?
There are two possible explanations for my results; either the rectangle is the result of some odd natural process, or it is artificial. If this is artificial, it is probably very, very old. How long can artifacts survive the elements? On Mars, there are planet wide dust storms that blow at over 100 miles per hour. Wind erosion can erase most important details in a very short time (look at artifacts in the deserts here on Earth). Also, the winds can bury artifacts under hundreds of feet of sand. There are only a few materials that wind blown sand cannot erase quickly; things like stone, or concrete, or some metals (but don’t expect the paint job to survive). Minor artifacts on the surface probably will not survive very long (in terms of archaeological time scales). What about the last residents? In most archaeological sites, very little remains on the surface. The last residents of the site take away everything of value before they go. The archaeologists are left with the things that were too valueless to be taken; the contents of the waste dumps, shards of broken pottery, graves, and the ruins of abandoned buildings. If they find manuscripts, or gold, or silver, it is an accident. Everything on a site is either previously looted, cannibalized, or junk. So, when the various hopefulists enhanced and analyzed the MGS images, they probably did not realize that the things they were looking for probably wouldn’t be there. Or, that their enhancement processes might be obscuring the features they should have been looking for.

The Enhancement Processes

It is important to note that most of the enhancement processes used on the Cydonia images were originally developed to reveal natural features and geology, not intelligent artifacts. So, there are some important distinctions we must make here. First, natural objects (macro scale, between atomic size and planet size) usually have irregular forms and may lack definite boundaries. Second, objects that are the artifacts of life usually have some type of form and a definite boundary. So, depending on scientific discipline, there different styles of looking at photographic data, and different techniques for collecting that data. For example, a geologist studying an aerial photo is usually looking for the relationships between surface features, and what those features tell about the underlying rocks. In geology, lines and edges are often either produced by, or distorted by, erosion. So, a geologist will not look very hard at the lines and edges in an image. Also, the only lines that are really important in geology are faults and rock strata, which may not show up clearly because of erosion. On the other hand, paleontologists and archaeologists are always looking for lines and edges. Why? Because lines and discrete edges are produced by living things; for example, the regular lines of a dinosaurs’ bones revealed in an underground sonar scan; or the lines of an ancient street layout revealed in an infrared image. So, there is a bias in choosing enhancement processes, and in choosing imaging technologies, depending on whether or not you are looking for the artifacts of living things. The enhancement processes used on the MGS images were designed to reveal features by looking at light and shadow, not edges. The reason for this is simple. Natural objects usually have irregular fractal edges that are not, in themselves, really very useful (unless you are looking for artifacts).

So, what were the enhancement algorithms doing to the lines and edges in the Cydonia images? Probably ignoring them. Why? Because the algorithms were based on the assumption that there were no regular edges in the images. Instead, the enhancement programs were designed to infer the existence of irregular edges from the local bright spots and shadows on the image, and then recreate the most likely form of the surface features. Now, think of this process in terms of a long, faint, broken, regular edge. Depending on the location in the image, a conventional enhancer will probably either assume that the edge is a part of several different features, or ignore it. In either case, the edge may well be obscured by the enhancer (that is why the rectangle tends to fade out in more highly enhanced versions of the Cydonia image). The people who enhanced the Cydonia image had a serious problem, and didn’t know about it. The process of enhancement cut out the very details they should have been looking for, edges. Did anyone consult an archaeologist?

The Problem with the Enhancers

I got these results because I was doing the exact opposite of what everyone else was trying to do. While they were trying to ultra enhance the images, I was using plain old Photo Deluxe to actually downgrade the images. That was the key. It was the artistic effects, the edge finder, that yielded results. The enhancers were expecting to find ruined automobiles or crashed flying saucers in their ultra enhancements. Time and erosion destroy everything. The problem was they didn’t know what they were looking for, or what to look for, or how to look. But they knew what they wanted to find. The prototypes of the Pyramids of Egypt. The secret UFO base. The teleport link to the Bermuda Triangle. The prison where the Martians kept Elvis. The lab where they did the sexual experiments on Ethel Waters’ seventeen clones. Note, I think this psychology held both inside and outside of the NASA community. Only, inside NASA, the hopes were more covert because everyone there had to maintain the facade of rationalism. This is probably why no one objected when Dr. Malin, a confirmed skeptic, was pressured to immediately re-image Cydonia once the probe had arrived at Mars (and why Dr. Malin had to do the initial enhancements of the images in a way calculated to dash the hopes of the believers). Later, after the raw Cydonia images were released, many individuals began doing ultra-super enhancements hoping to find the lost relics of a dead civilization. But, they didn’t realize that the enhancement processes they were using could not provide them with the results they wanted. So, when the ultra super enhancements yielded nothing definite, most of them left to pursue Bigfoot, or whatever. Correction, not definite results, I should have said recent looking enough to have inspired the builders of Stonehenge. Their problem was in what they were looking for: the ruins of a technologically advanced civilization that collapsed in a sudden cataclysmic disaster; the ancient patrons who visited mankind; and other romantic dreams.

A Final Note, on Time and Humanity

When I was a teenager, I saw a movie of the “World that Time Forgot” genre. In this movie, adventurers from a World War One German U-boat were stranded on an island populated with savage cavemen and hungry dinosaurs. The scenario was plausible to me, because, like most humans, I could not (and can not) imagine the difference between 100 years ago, 100 thousand years ago, or 100 million years ago. Our genus, Homo, is about 3 to 5 million years old. Our species, Homo Sapiens, is, at most, about 130,000 years old. Human civilization is about five thousand years old. How old are the “monuments” (if they are monuments) of Mars? How long could they have been preserved in the Martian atmosphere? They could very easily predate man. They could be too old to have had any visible effect on human history. Remember, any event older than about 5000 years will, at best, be recalled only as vague mythology. Anything more recent will be recalled as folklore, unless someone was there to write about it. So, history cannot tell us if aliens have ever visited this planet. That leaves us with what the archaeologists have dug up. I have not heard of anyone finding explicitly high tech artifacts. Also, even if the monuments are real, does that imply that the “Martians” ever developed a high tech civilization capable of visiting us? I think associating the (possible) artifacts on Mars with the monuments of ancient Egypt, or Babylonia, or Sumer is probably a waste of time. It is easier for me to simply accept that Amun Hotep, the architect who oversaw the construction of the first great Egyptian Pyramid, was a genius. Do we need patrons from outer space? Then again, aliens could have visited ancient Sumer, and not have came from Mars.


First, I don’t think we should write off the Cydonia “Face” yet. If the intelligent artifact hypothesis is correct, then Mars Global Surveyor will probably find more evidence. However, I do not necessarily expect anyone to recognize this data as evidence, for two reasons. First, the people behind the imaging process are not archaeologists, and so, may not know what to look for, or how to look. Archaeological imaging is not the province of the geologists and aerospace scientists who are analyzing the data (and who wrote the specs for the MGS imaging system). Second, the Mars images are part of an ongoing controversy between the “Rationalist Elite” and the “UFO Heresy.” So, there is a strong cultural motivation in NASA to not find anything artificial. And, a similar motivation on the part of the heretics to find artifacts everywhere. As long as this remains a turf battle between rival un-religion’s (like Seven-Up, the “Un-cola,” there are religions and there are un-religions, only we don’t necessarily see the similarities) outlooks, don’t expect anyone to handle the data in a rational way. So, you can expect these people not to see the evidence right before their eyes. Of course, this just means that there are interesting discoveries to be made by anyone willing to look at the images (all the images, not just Cydonia) in a different way.

Second, I think we should stop looking for Alien-humans (or Marshumans). Aliens will be alien, and behave in alien ways. Our “humanness” is the result of our mammalian brain structure. If an intelligent species of bird ever evolves here on earth, for example, they would probably think and behave in ways vary different from us; simply as the result of a fundamentally different brain architecture. And so, the “bird” culture would be very different from ours. Talking about “Birdmen” would be foolish and misleading. As for Cydonia, we all have a classic, and very human, explanation for the face on the Viking photos. It is the face of some emperor (like the colossal monuments of Ramsees II, or Ferdinand Marcos, or Joseph Stalin here on Earth), or a deity, or maybe some hero. The face just begs us to invent plausible, and romantic, stories about the lost empires of Mars. But is this so? It is in our collective human intellectual background to interpret the face in this way. But the face may not be what we think it is. It may be something very alien. Then again, it could just be a very strange rock formation.

I hope you enjoyed reading this.

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Literary Acknowledgment

I owe a debt to Dr. Michael C. Malin, and to the people of Malin Space Science Systems. If they had not created the “flat” enhancements of the first MGS image of the Cydonia Face, I would have had a much more difficult time finding the rectangle. The enhancement processes they used made bringing out the edges of the rectangle very easy. Other types of enhancement would have obscured the edges by mixing them in with local features. Without their work, this essay would not have been possible.


The Golden Number

The golden number is a fascinating thing. It was first noticed by one of the Pythagoreans in ancient Greece. Basically, it is the ratio of one of the diagonals of a pentagon to one of it’s sides, but there is more to it than that. First, it is one of the first provable irrational numbers. This fact was first discovered by one of the Pythagoreans sometime in the fifth century B.C. (by the way, its value is given by the formula: t= (1+ square root of 5)÷2, or t= 1.618033987,,,). Second, it is the basis of another Pythagorean discovery, the golden rectangle. The golden rectangle is the solution of a mathematical problem. Basically, if you have a rectangle with sides A and B, and A÷B = (A+B)÷A, then what is A÷B? The problem was that ancient Greek mathematics did not have irrational numbers (A÷B is irrational), so no one could solve it. Then, Pythagoras, as he was trying to find the value of the square root of two (another ancient problem), discovered that his math implied that the value was not a whole number, or a fraction of two whole numbers. So, Pythagoras proved the existence of irrational numbers. A little later, the value of A÷B was found to be irrational, and equal to t (a fact which fascinated the Greeks). Also, the Pythagoreans discovered another interesting property of the golden rectangle; if you subtract the length of the long side from the length of the short side, the result can be used to create another golden rectangle. That is, if you make the long side of the new rectangle equals the short side of the old rectangle, and the short side of the new rectangle equals the result of the calculation, then the new rectangle is golden. So, you can create an endless series of ever larger, or smaller, golden rectangles by simple iteration (a fact which fascinated the Greeks even more). Eventually, the Greeks, and later the Romans, came to attribute mystical properties to the golden ratio, and used it in many things. For example, it is found in the proportions of temples in Greece, and Roman town plans were based on the ratio. Finally, the golden number is found in the Fibonacci sequence. It is the limit of the ratio of any two consecutive numbers of the Fibonacci sequence as it approaches infinity. That is, the ratio of any number in the sequence to the next higher number approaches the golden number as the sequence (or the value of the number sampled) approaches infinity. The golden ratio is a deceptively simple, yet fascinating, thing.

The Pythagoreans

The Pythagoreans were a religious sect in ancient Greece. The sect was founded by the philosopher Pythagoras in about 525 B.C. The Pythagoreans believed, among other things, that numbers were the mystical basis of all things. Naturally, they were very interested in mathematics and made several important discoveries. Interestingly, the members of the sect tended to attribute all their mathematical discoveries to Pythagoras. <return to Description>


                                                   JPL         Jet Propulsion Laboratory
                                                   MGS       Mars Global Surveyor
                                                   MSSS     Malin Space Science Systems
                                                   NASA     National Aeronautics and Space Administration


The Book of Numbers, by John H. Conway and Richard K. Guy, published by Springer-Verlag New York Inc., 1996.

May 7, 1999 - May 22, 1999
Revised August 22, 1999
Revised October 23, 1999

Copyright © 1999 by George A. Fisher