Lunar pyramid and highway
Lunar strip-miner
Lunar bulldozers

In the mid-1970s I was in a bookstore near the college campus and picked up a volume with the wonderful title, SOMEBODY ELSE IS ON THE MOON. This book was full of medium-resolution telescopic photos of our only natural satellite, taken from earth telescopes, and many more low-resolution images of the lunar surface made by lunar probes of the day, usually blown up to total fuzziness. The author claimed to find in this fuzz lunar cities, lunar highways and spaceports, giant earthmoving and mining equipment, and much, much more. What was most amusing was that by the time the book was published, much higher-resolution photos of many of the same areas were available. When space experts noticed this, several wrote to the author offering to suppy the new images. They received no response.

However, a lesson was learned, because the focus of pseudoscience of this kind shifted almost at once to the surface of Mars. The fuzzy Martian surface photos available in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the pseudoscientists reasoned, would not be replaced by higher-resolution images for at least a decade and probably longer. So there has been endless pseudoscience generated about Martian pyramids, sphinxes, cities, you name it. [Alas for the circa-1900 folklore of Mars, no canals or water-treatment plants or atmosphere plants were spotted.] The availability of high resolution images of many of pseudoscience's favorite Martian features in the last 10 years has had no effect at all on the lore of Martian structures. And the advent of Adobe Photoshop has allowed some of the old fuzzy photos to evolve into amazing (and completely imaginary) detail. The Moon has not been forgotten, but it runs a distant second to Mars.

By far the best known such feature is the celebrated "face on Mars," a supposed giant carving along the lines of Mount Rushmore.

The Face on Mars (low res)
The actual "Face"

The highest-resolution current images of the "face," from Mars Explorer, Summer 2006, can be viewed here. This survey also reveals a nice Martian "skull."

Finding patterns in chaos and randomness is a truly human trait. And so is completely misinterpreting a slightly ambiguous photo of a natural phenomenon. But, not recognizing that that is what you are doing, suggests disturbing things about your degree of coupling to reality.

Next Illusion?