Does the Devil's Face Appear in the Smoke on 9/11?

Real Image or Hot Air?

Some television viewers were convinced they supposedly saw the face of Satan in clouds of smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center after it was struck by an airplane on September 11, 2001. Was it really the devil himself, or was it a stress-induced visual phenomenon?

9/11 Media Captures Face in the Smoke

Blow-ups of actual news photos of jetliners colliding with the World Trade Center during the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City supposedly show the devil's face emerging from billowing clouds of smoke, some observers say.​​​

The Associated Press shows an actual photo of the burning twin towers that includes a column of dark smoke in which "the eyes, nose, mouth, and horns of a devil" can allegedly be seen. According to Vin Alabiso, an AP vice president, and executive photo editor, The Associated Press maintains a strict policy which prohibits altering a photo in any way.

The vexing question isn't whether or not these images are real; they are. The vexing question is what, precisely, we see in them.

Seeing Faces in the Clouds

Psychologists call this phenomenon pareidolia — the tendency to perceive human-like faces and forms or other familiar visual patterns in places they don't belong. It's an age-old rationalization used to describe catastrophes to evil forces beyond our control, especially in relation to scenes of death and disaster, and to put the blame elsewhere rather than with the real perpetrators.

Computer Assessment of the Photo

Vladik Kreinovich and Dima Lourinski of the University of Texas at El Paso Computer Science department conducted a geometric analysis of the billowing shapes some people have interpreted as the face of Satan and concluded that "they can naturally be explained by the physics and geometry of fire."