By Joel Achenbach
The director of the Crypto-Phenomena Museum, in Malibu, Calif., has announced the discovery of a volcanic formation on Mars that looks like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
''This is serious. This is not a joke," says Jon Erik Beckjord, who found the 3.6-mile-wide formation in a satellite photograph in NASA's archives. "Of course you could say this is not actually Teddy Kennedy, you could say it's something that looks like Teddy Kennedy. It's a volcano, the crater of which gives the impression of a square face, with jowls, fat jowls, a chin protruding out of the jowls. This is a characteristic look of Kennedy. He's got similar eyes, you can see an eyebrow and a lock of hair coming down over the head, and there's a slight smirk, a satisfied-looking smirk on the face. All of this, of course, is lava."
Kennedy, informed Yesterday of Beckjord's discovery, expressed alarm.
"I knew I should have stopped eating those Mars bars," he said.
Beckjord says he's been trying to sell his Kennedy-on-Mars photos (he calls the formation "Mount Kennedy" to supermarket tabloids. He wants to use the money to investigate mysterious flying-saucer-shaped circles that have appeared in the middle of agricultural fields in England. His specialty until now has been Bigfoot and Loch Ness Monster photographs, which he exhibits in the Crypto-Phenomena Museum, housed in a Malibu restaurant. His resume states that he holds a master's in business administration from Berkeley, is a member of the high-IQ society Mensa, has appeared on "Good Morning America" and the David Letterman show, and "has also collected four hair samples and one blood sample of suspected Bigfoot creatures."
Beckjord is a late arrival to the science of discovering paranormal Martian monoliths. There have been other faces. Indeed, there is a kind of cottage industry in finding signs of sentience on the arid rockscape of the red planet. For example, there is the letter "B" that seems to be written on a rock near where one of the Viking probes landed. Or maybe it's an "8."
But nothing has drawn as much attention as the so-called Cydonia face, a rock formation photographed by a Viking orbiter in 1976 and variously described as looking like an Indian, an Egyptian, a monkey and the phantom of the comics pages.
NASA scientists released that photo as a joke, and when some reporters began to take it seriously the agency scrambled to assure everyone that it was just a trick of lighting and of the human tendency to see anthropomorphic features in inanimate objects. But two engineers, Vincent Dipietro and Greg Molenaar, did computer enhancement on the photos and published a 1982 monograph called "Unusual Martian Surface Features," speculating that the face was created by a civilization that lived 500 million years ago. In 1987 came a slicker, more popular book, Richard Hoagland's "The Monuments of Mars," which claimed that there is a ruined city near the face.
Beckjord, meanwhile, sounds a competitive note when he argues that his Kennedy face has "more points of symmetry" than the more famous Cydonia face. He says he has also found a number of other images on Mars, including one that resembles the profile of Tammy Faye Bakker.
Beckjord doubts that natural forces created the Teddy face.
"The odds of such a thing happening by pure chance would have to be one in a trillion trillion," he said. "It's very likely that some kind of creative force in the past caused this combination of rock, lava and sand to form in that manner, possibly knowing that the senator would be famous around this time in his life."
This leaves open the question of why there would be a Teddy face on Mars. Who would have created it. What it means.
"Perhaps it's a judgment on the events happening in Palm Beach," Beckjord said, referring to the senator's controversial behavior in Florida over the Easter weekend." This is pure speculation," he said.
And if this is a judgment on the events in Palm Beach, what would that judgment be? Condemnation? A cryptic message of support?
Did supernatural forces create a Martian rock formation that looks like Teddy Kennedy, or did supernatural forces create Teddy Kennedy to look like a Martian rock formation?
Or is it really Brando?
Beckjord answers with his own question: "Is it possible that Ted Kennedy has. . . lost face?"