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Making Sense of Science

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Space Smile
April 08, 1999

Mars smiley face

A happy greeting from Mars to Earth came via The Mars Global Surveyor, a mission launched in November of 1996 by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories. Mars Global Surveyor sent images of the smile on the first day of its Mapping Phase in the second week of March, 1999. Malin Space Science Systems and the Caltech built the Mars Orbiter Camera, the hi-tech camera that Global Surveyor carries onboard to snap pictures of the Red Planet’s surface.

image: NASA/JPL

Mars Global Surveyor confirms that it is indeed a unique geological formation. Viking Orbiter I first photographed this "Happy Face Crater," known as the Galle (pronounced GAL-UH) Crater, in 1976 (Viking Orbiter I photo right). The crater is named after Johann Galle, who is attributed with discovering Neptune in 1846.

Although found at the same time as the Galle Crater, the "Mars Face," overshadowed the Galle Crater in the imaginations of the public. Mars Global Surveyor’s camera revealed that what had looked like a giant human skull to Viking Orbiter I was actually a mundane geological formation.

image: NASA/JPL

Elsewhere on the Web

Mars Global Surveyor stats, facts, and links

"Happy Face" crater press release from Malin Space Science Systems

NASA’s photojournal archives of planets in the solar system taken by various missions

A list of craters on Mars and their namesakes

by Joyce Gramza

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