BC-SPACE-MARS-FACE (0826areulbar005DC)

Mars probe to photograph Martian ``sphinx''

By Beth Dickey

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, Sept 25, Reuter - In an attempt to

settle debate about a lost civilisation on a cold, dead planet,

the Mars Observer will take new pictures of a face-shaped

plateau and other odd landforms that resemble the pyramids and

sphinx of Egypt.

By taking high-resolution photographs of the enigmatic rock

monoliths, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

(NASA) hopes to settle debate about a lost civilisation on the

cold, dead planet.

``We want to satisfy public curiosity,'' project scientist

Dave Evans told Reuters. He declined to give his own opinion on

whether the rock formations actually are monuments as

mathematically complex as the tombs of Giza.

The theory is put forth in the 1987 book, ``The Monuments of

Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever,'' written by Richard

Hoagland, a former aerospace consultant for the NBC and CBS

television networks.

The features in a northern hemisphere region called Cydonia

were revealed in only two of the 52,000 photographs sent back to

Earth by twin U.S. Viking probes that reached Mars in 1976.

The photographs show a mile (1.6 km)-long, 1,500-foot (2,400

km) -high mesa that looks like the face of a sphinx staring

upward as well as what appears to be a cluster of pyramids


The objects have captured tabloid headlines time and again

for 16 year while NASA has dismissed them as tricks of sunlight

and shadow.

Mainstream theory holds that Mars once was much like Earth,

with oceans and rivers that may have harboured microscopic

organisms. But unlike its lush neighbour, Mars quickly cooled to

the core and ceased its geological activity before higher life

forms could evolve.

The Mars Observer's mission is to map the entire surface --

including the enigmatic features of Cydonia --for scientists

pondering sites for humans to explore.

Evans said the region holds ``intense interest'' for

geologists but that ``the face has nothing to do with it.''


Reut15:22 09-25