Do you see a Man in the Moon?

Someone surely pointed out the Man in the Moon to you when you were a child. It is an imaginary figure resembling a human face, head or body, that some people see in the full moon. The figure is composed of the dark areas (the lunar maria, or “seas”) and the lighter highlands of the lunar surface.

I was shown the traditional Western perception of a face, but an older European tradition points out a figure of a man carrying something on his back. (Some people see him accompanied by a small dog.)

The Man in the Moon is an example of pareidolia – a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Other examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse.

The word comes from the Greek words para (meaning something wrong, instead of) and the noun eidōlon (image, form, shape). Cultures other than our Western ones, see the silhouette of a woman, rabbit, frog, moose, buffalo, or a dragon in the full moon. Some people see in the overall dark and light regions a Yin Yang symbol.

In Elizabethan England, the spots of the Moon were supposed to represent a witch carrying sticks of wood on her back, or an old man with a lantern (which was illustrated by Shakespeare in his comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream). A more recent Western image is the profile of a coiffed woman wearing a jeweled pendant, the jewel being the crater Tycho, which at full moon is very bright and has bright radiating lines (rays). In New Zealand Māori legend, the moon shows a woman with a local tree, the Ngaio. However, throughout Melanesia and Polynesia, the moon is seen to be a cook over a three-stone fire.

In the Renaissance, the man in the moon was known as Moonshine – an old man who carries a lantern.

Ay, or else one must come in with a bush of thorns and
A lantern, and say he comes to disfigure, or to present,
The person of Moonshine.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (3.1.51-53)

In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica the rabbit is often associated with the moon, for example, Tecciztecatl, the Aztec moon god, was pictured as an anthropomorphic rabbit, there is also a myth involving Quetzalcoatl and the moon rabbit.

In Chinese culture, the rabbit in the moon is pounding medicine. Similarly, in Japan and Korea, popular culture sees a rabbit making mochi and tteok in the moon. In one Chinese tradition, the “Man in the Moon” is a mythological character said to live on or in the moon, rather than a face on the moon.

The Face on Mars

Another pareidolia in space is at Cydonia, a region on the planet Mars that has attracted scientific and popular interest. Cydonia contains the “Face on Mars” a feature located about half-way between Arandas Crater and Bamberg Crater and the ESA “skull” formation a few kilometres south of the “face.”