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No. 117: May-June 1998

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The Flat Face Of Mars

Mars has two puzzling "faces": (1) That human-like visage at Cydonia; and (2) The whole northern hemisphere or "face." The latter is definitely real and consists of an immense, low-lying plain centered roughly on the planet's North Pole. The opposite face of Mars is occupied by rough, cratered highlands. This sharp, profound crustal dichotomy has been known for many years and has resisted explanation.

In SF#113, T. Van Flandern advanced the theory that the rugged southern highlands are composed of the debris from an exploded planet which Mars once attended as a satellite. Be that as it may, there is something puzzling about the northern plains.

We now have information from the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), now orbitting the red planet, that the low-lying northern plains are much flatter than thought. For thousands of kilometers, they are smooth on a scale of hundreds of meters. This is flatter than the lava flows of the lunar maria; flatter than the smoothest central Sahara. These startling data come from the MGS's laser altimeter that can measure elevation of the terrain below it with 10meter accuracy averaged over the beam width of 150 meters.

The only known terrain in the entire solar system that can match this flatness is the abyssal, sediment-filled floor of the South Atlantic. Hmmm! Does this imply that the northern plains of Mars were once an ocean floor? That's the favorite interpretation today. Of course, they might also be lava plains created by a colossal ancient impact, made smoother by blown dust.

(Kerr, Richard A.; "Surveyor Shows the Flat Face of Mars," Science, 279:1634, 1998.)

From Science Frontiers #117, MAY-JUN 1998. 1998-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987