<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

Even before Schiaparelli’s observations, astronomers had watched the bright polar caps change size with the seasons and had seen variations in the dark surface features. With a little imagination, it was not difficult to picture the canals as long fields of crops bordering irrigation ditches that brought water from the melting polar ice to the parched deserts of the red planet. (They assumed the polar caps were composed of water ice, which isn’t exactly true, as we will see shortly.)

Until has death in 1916, the most effective proponent of intelligent life on Mars was Percival Lowell , a self-made American astronomer and member of the wealthy Lowell family of Boston (see the feature box on Percival Lowell: Dreaming of an Inhabited Mars ). A skilled author and speaker, Lowell made what seemed to the public to be a convincing case for intelligent Martians, who had constructed the huge canals to preserve their civilization in the face of a deteriorating climate ( [link] ).

Lowell’s mars globe.

Image of Lowell’s Mars globe. Lowell’s globe, based on his visual observations, is crisscrossed with straight lines which he claimed were canals. Dark areas corresponding to actual features are also depicted.
One of the remarkable globes of Mars prepared by Percival Lowell, showing a network of dozens of canals, oases, and triangular water reservoirs that he claimed were visible on the red planet.

The argument for a race of intelligent Martians, however, hinged on the reality of the canals, a matter that remained in serious dispute among astronomers. The canal markings were always difficult to study, glimpsed only occasionally because atmospheric conditions caused the tiny image of Mars to shimmer in the telescope. Lowell saw canals everywhere (even a few on Venus), but many other observers could not see them at all and remained unconvinced of their existence. When telescopes larger than Lowell’s failed to confirm the presence of canals, the skeptics felt vindicated. Now it is generally accepted that the straight lines were an optical illusion, the result of the human mind’s tendency to see order in random features that are glimpsed dimly at the limits of the eye’s resolution. When we see small, dim dots of surface markings, our minds tend to connect those dots into straight lines.

Percival lowell: dreaming of an inhabited mars

Percival Lowell was born into the well-to-do Massachusetts family about whom John Bossidy made the famous toast:

And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots
And the Cabots talk only to God.

Percival’s brother Lawrence became president of Harvard University, and his sister, Amy, became a distinguished poet. Percival was already interested in astronomy as a boy: he made observations of Mars at age 13. His undergraduate thesis at Harvard dealt with the origin of the solar system, but he did not pursue this interest immediately. Instead, he entered the family business and traveled extensively in Asia. In 1892, however, he decided to dedicate himself to carrying on Schiaparelli’s work and solving the mysteries of the martian canals.

In 1894, with the help of astronomers at Harvard but using his own funds, Lowell built an observatory on a high plateau in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he hoped the seeing would be clear enough to show him Mars in unprecedented detail. He and his assistants quickly accumulated a tremendous number of drawings and maps, purporting to show a vast network of martian canals (see [link] ). He elaborated his ideas about the inhabitants of the red planet in several books, including Mars (1895) and Mars and Its Canals (1906), and in hundreds of articles and speeches.

As Lowell put it,

A mind of no mean order would seem to have presided over the system we see—a mind certainly of considerably more comprehensiveness than that which presides over the various departments of our own public works. Party politics, at all events, have had no part in them; for the system is planet-wide. . . . Certainly what we see hints at the existence of beings who are in advance of, not behind us, in the journey of life.

Lowell’s views captured the public imagination and inspired many novels and stories, the most famous of which was H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (1897). In this famous “invasion” novel, the thirsty inhabitants of a dying planet Mars (based entirely on Lowell’s ideas) come to conquer Earth with advanced technology.

Although the Lowell Observatory first became famous for its work on the martian canals, both Lowell and the observatory eventually turned to other projects as well. He became interested in the search for a ninth (and then undiscovered) planet in the solar system. In 1930, Pluto was found at the Lowell Observatory, and it is not a coincidence that the name selected for the new planet starts with Lowell’s initials. It was also at the Lowell Observatory that the first measurements were made of the great speed at which galaxies are moving away from us, observations that would ultimately lead to our modern view of an expanding universe.

Lowell ( [link] ) continued to live at his observatory, marrying at age 53 and publishing extensively. He relished the debate his claims about Mars caused far more than the astronomers on the other side, who often complained that Lowell’s work was making planetary astronomy a less respectable field. At the same time, the public fascination with the planets fueled by Lowell’s work (and its interpreters) may, several generations later, have helped fan support for the space program and the many missions whose results grace the pages of our text.

Percival lowell (1855–1916).

This is a photograph of Percival Lowell seated at the eyepiece of the 24-inch refractor near Flagstaff, Arizona.
This 1914 photograph shows Percival Lowell observing Venus with his 24-inch telescope at Flagstaff, Arizona.

Questions & Answers

understanding astronomy
ricardo Reply
What About Understanding Astronomy?
Adam
yap
Janmarc
what is astronomy?
Janmarc
define..
Janmarc
Currently, I'm studying in 10th grade. What should I do after my 10th so that I can get an astronomy career?
Chaya Reply
try jee exam and achieve a good score in jee advance to join in IIST(Space research institute)
Sri
okay.. thanks
Chaya
this famous person was the first to recognise earthshine on the moin
Rajan Reply
Leonardo Da Vinci.....
Adam
what is string theory?
sakshi Reply
A Cosmological Theory Based On The Exsistence Of Cosmic Vibrating Strings.....
Adam
Does MIT have good astrophysics courses ?
priyanshu Reply
Probably The Best In The United States.....
Adam
But Don't Get Caught Up On Who's The Best, You Can Be The Next Noble Winning Astrophysicist.....
Adam
hmmm..........that's nice one....Adam had said.....
Gospel
How did ASTRONOMY helped you understand yourself ? 🤔
Hussain Reply
why do you want to study ASTRONOMY?
Hussain Reply
It is one of the natural sciences and therefore worth exploring. You are a part of the universe and it is a part of you. The sky is my classroom. (student of cosmology, Oxford Uni)
SuperNova
because everything in the space is just beautiful...interesting and worth studying and exploring...
Memo
I have been studying astrophysics an love it
Carla
I love to learn what makes up our lives an heavens an how it works there us so much more out there than books an our veiw of thw heavens can reveal
Carla
How did ASTRONOMY helped you understand yourself ?
Hussain
Because it proves the impossibles and the limitless.
Dark
It helped me realize that there are like countless possibilities in life and get all through it.
Dark
It honestly showed me to view the world in a balanced way. Because space beautiful and calm yet violent, and so is the world, and we should still help, but there will always be violent people much like violent astrophysical jets.
Da
Does anyone know where can I study astronomy in Spain? My budget is too low for traveling out there...
Valerian Reply
How long the duration was when the laws of physics became active after the big bang?And why the time is called plank's time?
Mostak Reply
how many galaxies in universe?
Shaikh Reply
10 to the power 11
Wwe
testing
Ahmad
thnx
Shaikh
if u can count all the sands on the beaches and on the deserts then u will know how much it will be.......some said more than 1,000,000,000 galaxies are there in our universe...
Gospel
it's ok bro
Wwe
I hope you will become a member of nasa
Wwe
just new in this area, from art background not science
Ahmad
what's ur name wwe
Shaikh
The Observable Universe Contains Between 200 Billion To 2 Trillion Galaxies.....
Adam
are u sure?
Caleb
It actually hasn't been proven, people have just made estimations.
Ariana
the thing is u can't count,maybe the our number system will collapse there...who knows?
Abdullah
What's the exact time when the laws of physics became active after the big bang ?
Mostak
Actually we still don't know the exact number of galaxies in the universe, since the universe is bigger than we can imagine and it is still expanding even bigger today than yesterday
Ismaee
we didn't actually find the exact number but may be it is around 100 billion
Smridhi
why this universe is expanding?
ATUL
Science Does Not Concern It Self With Why Questions, Science Is Geared For How And What Questions.....
Adam
Why Questions Form And Endless Loop.....
Adam
According to the universal law of cause and effect .any phenomenon that occur in this universe should have any reason , nothing happen without any reason.
ATUL
Can you tell me the expanding speed of this universe.
ATUL
yes that would be a great question to have answered what is the expanding speed of the universe?
Daijahrel
Remember that most of what you can see is light years away. We're looking back in time, we can never know the current nature of our observations, only glimpse the galaxies and stars as they once were. Strange but true, and a little sad.
SuperNova
Correct, That's Why Telescopes Are Like Time Machines, You See The Past.....
Adam
really telescope can see the past?....i meant everything is in its place, though it rotates or revolve or whatever it is.......but how can this telescope can see the past.....can we see how our Universe was created,how it formed out of it? thats my question to all of you guys can you plz tell me.
Gospel
Because We Dont See Any Object In Space As It Is, We See It As It Was..... Hope This Clears That Up For You.....
Adam
And One Day We Might Have A Telescope That Will Show Us The Big Bang.....
Adam
ok....... that will be nice one
Gospel
ok....... that will be nice one
Gospel
Travel at light speed in a spaceship at 186,000 miles every SECOND. At this speed it will take you 100,000 years just to cross our Milky Way galaxy, which is just a dot in the sky. Next stop, the Andromeda galaxy, after 2.5 million years, still in the Local Group, Virgo Supercluster, still a dot.
SuperNova
Pretty Much.....
Adam
there are nearly 200 million I suppose.
Amit
hi i need a telescope would you help mee
Nauman Reply
i can only advice you to go to some museum
Gospel
wher is it?
Nauman
but before that.......... i wanna know where are you from and from which state...and if you are nearer to that of the museum or will be able to go then.,.. i donot have any more words.
Gospel
What Do Plan To Observe?
Adam
sorry . i am from asia
Nauman
Check on amazon.Celeston telescopes are good for beginners.
priyanshu
can yoy introduce your self
Nauman
can you
Nauman
Asia...? from which country you belong into ...,,is it India or where?
Gospel
Do You Want A Telescope With ALot Of Maintenance Or Zero Maintenance?
Adam
pakistan
Nauman
with alot offf
Nauman
Any second hand online stores in your area? great for unused Christmas gifts etc..
Collins
So You Want A Newtonian Reflector?
Adam
hey guys I wanna ask you all that will it be safe or helpful to communicate with an intelligent civilization like are we safe ?
Samuel
Is the Orion Sky Quest XT6 a good Dobsonian?
TheDirtyGhost
Look for a Sky Watcher 130BKS, it has an upgraded dual speed 2" focuser. You can use 1.25" or 2" eyepieces with it and it is quite easy to pollinate using a simple visual collimating eyepiece. This scope is great and ready for prime focus astrophotography if you choose to go that route.
Robert
Sorry, spell check error. Pollinate should be collimate. lol
Robert
Dobsonians Require A Lot Of Maintenance, If You Don't Mind Cleaning And Collimating On A Regular Basis, Then Go Ahead A Dobsonian Puts Up Excellent Views Especially For Deep Space Objects..... Now If You Don't Want Constant Maintenance Then A Schmidt Cassegrain Might Be A Better Fit For You.....
Adam
So what i would put for that answer ?
Abdulla Reply
The largest observatory complex in the world is on Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain on Earth. Whatare some factors astronomers consider when selecting an observatory site? Don’t forget practical ones.Should astronomers, for example, consider building an observatory on Denali (Mount McKinley) or MountEverest?
Abdulla Reply
i need help on the the second part
Abdulla
Should astronomers for example considered building an observatory on Denali (Mount Mckinley) or MountEverest ?
Abdulla
I would take into consideration. climate weather pattern.
basim
also, could an establishment be built and be able to sustain years of being beaten by the weather?
basim
so far Mount Everest to my understanding is a difficult mountain
basim
it is because of light pollution in the cities that the observatories are situated in extremely remote areas.
Ashish
Everest ist the tallest mountain
Paul
how far us milky way galaxy?
ShowsSpy Reply
oh man
madison
We are part of the Milky Way Galaxy. We are within it, so it's not really away from us. Our galaxy is 100,000 light years in diameter. The nearest big galaxy is Andromeda, around 2 million lightyears away.
Jignesh
its 200,000 light years
Gospel
Where is Rice University located?
Amanda Reply
it is in your vagina
world
that couldn't be any more wrong 😂😂
jay
what even is this conversation😂😂!?
Herrera
Show Some Class.....
Adam
Houston, Texas.....
Adam
Houston
Preston

Get the best Astronomy course in your pocket!





Source:  OpenStax, Astronomy. OpenStax CNX. Apr 12, 2017 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11992/1.13
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Astronomy' conversation and receive update notifications?

Ask