The faces of Licinia

By Phil Plait | September 6, 2012 6:35 am

In April, 2012, the Dawn spacecraft was a mere 272 kilometers (170 miles) from the surface of the asteroid Vesta when it took this wonderful picture of the crater Licinia:

[And oh yes, you want to click to envirgingoddessenate - it links to a picture of the area around the crater as well.]

Licinia is about 25 km (15 miles) across – too big to fit in Dawn’s field-of-view from that height. But it does show spectacular detail, including what look like landslides into the bowl from the crater rim; you can see them as dark streaks running down the crater wall. Mounds of material at the base of the crater wall indicate bigger landslides, too. Vesta’s gravity is far weaker than Earth’s – it’s about 1/40th what we experience here – but even then, it’s a force that won’t be denied.

While I was inspecting the crater floor, I saw something that made me laugh out loud. The floor is lit by the distant Sun, but a sharp shadow of the crater rim is cast on it as well. The inky black shadow is irregular due to the uneven crater rim. Inset here is a piece of that shadow line. Do you see the dark shadow "face" looking to the left at the top? It jumped right out at me… and then I saw another face just below it, this time bright and looking to the right and slightly up!

Once you see it…

Man. Pareidolia is a force almost as strong as gravity.

Anyway, Dawn’s visit to Vesta has come to an end. It left the asteroid on September 5, and began the long two-and-a-half year voyage to visit Ceres, the largest of the main belt asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. Vesta is a fascinating place, but so is Ceres, and we know very little about it.

That’s all about to change. But then, that’s what exploration is for.


Related Posts:

- Dawn flies over Vesta
- Dawn dips down to Vesta
- Vesta in breathtaking detail
- Vesta’s odd bottom

MORE ABOUT: crater, Dawn, Licinia, Vesta

Comments (35)

  1. Alfred Hitchcock presents an extraterrestrial thriller.

  2. Much of the earlier pareidolia was in food – pizza, and so on. These days, most pareidolia makes me hungry.

  3. Carey

    Even the reverse “light” face looking up at the original “shadow” face has yet another shadow face looking into its nose.

    It’s fractal faces all the way down…

  4. wintermute

    The shadow face is a Hitchcock cameo!

  5. Jim

    Is that Christopher Hitchens in profile?

  6. Billzbub

    The shadow figure looking to the left REALLY needs a bra.

  7. I thought the same thing as wintermute (#3)! I even hummed the little intro tune that would play when his silhouette would appear. :)

  8. Greg

    @3 & 5: Me too. First thing I thought was Alfred Hitchcock Presents…

  9. Chris

    I don’t see a face. Looks like the side of a vase to me :-D

  10. Tim Gaede

    Hitchens or Hitchcock?

  11. bigdaddyhen

    Looks a bit like Homer to me.

  12. I love where we are with space exploration. It’s the Age of Discovery – the Age of Wind. Like the 16th century explorers used their knowledge of gravity (tides) and vectors (sailing) to land successfully after months of navigation, we use our knowledge of gravity and Newton’s laws of motion to pick subtle paths through interplanetary space, hitting targets after years of travel.

    Some day we may have immensely powerful drives which allow us to power directly to our destination, and interplanetary travel will seem routine and boring. But for now, we are explorers rapidly filling in the margins of our maps with spare, elegant craft. I hope we are wise enough to continue exploring. Untold riches await.

  13. DrFlimmer

    I saw something else, first. Right to the left of the dark face’s nose I see a frog. The two craters being the big eyes.

  14. I suppose if one were clever, one could figure out how fast Vesta was spinning by comparing the time difference between the two photos and then measuring the distance the shadow of the rim had moved between frames.

    I, of course, am not clever.

  15. Nigel Depledge

    Dr Flimmer (11) said:

    I saw something else, first. Right to the left of the dark face’s nose I see a frog. The two craters being the big eyes.

    OMG! Giant Mutant Space Frog on Vesta!

    It’s like that scene from the astrozoology documentary The Empire Strikes Back! Thank JPL that Dawn never got too close.

  16. Nigel Depledge

    @ bigdaddyhen (9) -
    What, the Greek poet, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey?

  17. Nigel Depledge

    @ 3, 5, 6 & 8 -

    Definitely Hitchcock.

  18. Tara Li

    Funeral March of a Marionette. I hear it playing.

  19. At first I thought of Hitchcock, but there seems to be some sort of…female part a bit south of there. Then it hit me: Eleanor Roosevelt!

  20. I, too, see it as a face with a high-riding perky mammalian appendage below. Maybe that’s what lower gravity does for people.

  21. Chris

    I made an image of what I see: http://img402.imageshack.us/img402/8075/dawnvestalicinia.jpg

    Also just watched How the Universe Works – season 2 episode 7 – worlds that never were.

    saw you on it, and lots of discussion about asteroids and dawn.

    great mission! good timing with your post too!

  22. lepton

    Gosh, Phil, you really have this Pareidolia obsession!!!

    BTW, just watched your TED talk about asteroid hitting Earth from Netflix, it is cool!

  23. Shane

    Looking at that crater and then reading the post I had the odd realization. The little island you posted the pic of the other day (the scrap scrape scarp post) would fit neatly in the center of this crater and barely be noticed. Weird.

  24. I can’t get to the Dawn Image of the Day. Is it just me? Neither of my browsers seem to think dawn.jpl.nasa.gov is a valid site – I get jumped to http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn

  25. Matt B.

    Envirgingoddessenation isn’t working. I can never have anything virgin. *pout*

    @23 lepton – Maybe Phil just thinks he’s perceiving pareidolia when it’s not really there! Mind. Blown.

  26. VinceRN

    Link not working and I couldn’t find the picture going back through several pages of images at the dawn site. A mystery.

  27. Stephen

    Link is not working!

  28. jonathan

    Yup, link not working

  29. Roger Adamson

    In the crater, at the level of the upper face’s forhead, are several paw prints – big dog prints.

  30. Brian Too

    @26. Matt B.

    Fret not, Richard Branson’s empire is working to bring you everything Virgin!

  31. VinceRN

    Working now. Likely a snafu at NASA I guess.

  32. I found a much clear and realistic face inside the crater, near the black shadow limit.

    it looks like a female or a monkey face with a lion hair !!! does anybody agree ???

  33. scribbler

    Hitchcock had bigger boobs than Roosevelt… ;-)

  34. The Andrew is here now

    OMG… That’s my ex girlfriend…

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