"A situation in many respects similar to ours"
February 12, 2012 2:22 PM   Subscribe

For a time in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was erroneously believed that there were canals on Mars.
Maps of the Martian canals. List of Martian Canals. Historical Globes of the Red Planet.
A modern perspective. The Planet Mars: A History of Observation and Discovery .
posted by timshel (26 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cool. I was just looking at some of these.
posted by Artw at 2:24 PM on February 12, 2012


Of course they aren't canals. They're the trails of massive sentient worms.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:25 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


So sometimes I go to AboveTopSecret.com to see the proponents of different conspiracy theories argue with each other. There was a classic thread a few years ago about whether the Martian canals a) were part of the secret CIA/Illuminati complex (that a couple of years later we'd discover that Obama had been teleported to); b) the work of the Lizard People; or c) nonexistent. Each cohort argued equally vigorously that the other two were completely irrational and not paying attention to the evidence.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:30 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Idiots. Everyone knows the that 'canals' are the grave sites where the Venusians buried the millions of dead Saturians in '98, after the final battle of the 7 Nanosecond War.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:39 PM on February 12, 2012


Each cohort argued equally vigorously that the other two were completely irrational and not paying attention to the evidence.

Tsk. Clearly the Pyramid Builders paved them over once they figured out we were on to them.
posted by Artw at 2:41 PM on February 12, 2012


Something i always wondered was what happened to people seeing "seasons" on mars? As a planet not that far from ours, it seems that there should be variations happening if even not as drastic as they thought. Were they the sandstorms? Is there any melting of the ice caps there? Stuff i wonder and when i wonder my google fu just doesn't work.

Also, can we please stop sending the explorers to the most boring areas on the planet? Maybe work a way that we can send several smaller more mobile ones to explore more than "oh look, flat area with rocks..."?

Everyone knows the that 'canals' are the grave sites where the Venusians buried the millions of dead Saturians in '98, after the final battle of the 7 Nanosecond War.

I forget which gaming system it was, but it crossed Space:1889 with Cthulhu and made the canals a giant elder sign that kept them . Of course we go up there and mess it up. ;)
posted by usagizero at 2:42 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't believe this hadn't been posted until now. Thanks!
posted by infini at 2:44 PM on February 12, 2012


I don't have either of those, but I did pick up a (metal!) globe of Mars at the flea market last year for $3. Pretty awesome.
posted by DU at 2:50 PM on February 12, 2012


I got a lifeform and her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on a Martian canal
She's a good ol' alien and a good ol' pal
Fifteen miles on a Martian canal
We've hauled some space barges near and far,
Filled with tholeiitic basalt, iron oxide, and plagioclase feldspar
And we know every inch of Mars
From to the Valles Marineris to the Borealis basin-o-o
Low! Natural bridge! Every E.T. down!
Low! Natural bridge! 'Cause we're coming to a geographic feature that, from Earth, might look like a town
And you'll always know your little green neighbor, you'll always know your non-water-dependent Grey pal
If you've ever navigated on a Martian canal
posted by argonauta at 2:56 PM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


New York Times article (PDF) on professor Wiggins and the canals on Mars.
posted by eye of newt at 3:42 PM on February 12, 2012


Is there any mefi member who has a better personal site than peacay? If there is, I haven't been lucky enough to see it yet.
posted by jfuller at 3:49 PM on February 12, 2012


Canals shamals. I like the face.

(Sorry if that is not a link, my brain seems to be broken.)
posted by benjonson at 3:53 PM on February 12, 2012


What's amazing, and somewhat telling as to the nature of human observation, is not that one person thought they saw canals (or channels) through an optical telescope, but that other people confirmed it, and became more and more convinced of them, until this whole elaborate non-existent canal network built up. Then telescopes got better and everyone kind of shrugged and forgot the idea, but it persisted in fiction pretty much right until we started sending rockets there.
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you take a look at this Google Books link and scroll down to about the #4 position you'll see Lowell's "Mars and its Canals" (1906) in its entirety.

I'd post a direct link but it looks like the direct link has session data and I'm not sure if it expires (does it?)

Anyhow the big thing that struck me about Lowell's work is how much filler there is. In that respect it's pretty interesting... not discounting the historical significance and Lowell's keen and methodical observation of the planet (interpretation being another story).
posted by crapmatic at 3:58 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like the chapter "Dinosaurs: There will definatly be some of those".

Not really there, but there's a whole bunchy of pictures of dinosaurs and fossils that accompanied by wild speculation.

(Yes, I skimmed for pictures.)
posted by Artw at 4:11 PM on February 12, 2012


No map of Barsoom?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:22 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a strange desire to read RPG sourcebooks for mad fantasy Marses.
posted by Artw at 4:30 PM on February 12, 2012


I've been getting back into amateur astonomy in the last few months. We're nearing the closest approach to Mars for the year, and starting sometime around Christmas, I've been able to see an ice cap, and as of a few weeks ago, even some surface features. Sadly, though it's been clear the last couple of nights, the seeing has been pretty awful, so I probably won't see much more than the ice cap tonight.

Something i always wondered was what happened to people seeing "seasons" on mars? As a planet not that far from ours, it seems that there should be variations happening if even not as drastic as they thought. Were they the sandstorms?

There are seasons on Mars. The (CO2) ice caps grow and shrink accordingly. With a large enough telescope, you can probably see large dust storms, as well.
posted by dirigibleman at 4:32 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can only presume that this is all another Osirian plot.
posted by pompomtom at 8:11 PM on February 12, 2012


I have a strange desire to read RPG sourcebooks for mad fantasy Marses.

Check out Space: 1889 if you can find it.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 8:15 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dan Quayle, 44th Vice President of the United States: "Mars is essentially in the same orbit... Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe."
posted by fredludd at 10:52 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


A rather good book on the same topic that I read a few years ago is Dying Planet by Robert Markley, which explores both the scientific and fictional history of Mars as our sister planet and the most likely other planet in the solar system to be inhabitable. What struck me most about reading it was how widespread and for how long the canali/canals theory about Mars was believed; Markley argues convincingly (for me at least) that despite its later reputation as being obviously wrong, it was in fact quite plausible and perhaps even the best theory to fit the observable facts. It's also clear just how little we knew about Mars before the first probes were sent.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:11 AM on February 13, 2012


Maybe the canals were there for a long time and then disappeared? We are so quick to dismiss the observations from the past...
posted by CautionToTheWind at 7:09 AM on February 13, 2012


Maybe the canals were there for a long time and then disappeared? We are so quick to dismiss the observations from the past...

I assume you're kidding, but just in case you're not, we can use the instruments people like Percival Lowell used today and see where the visual artifacts that looked to him like "canals" come from.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:07 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another interesting theory once held about mars is that Phobos, the larger of its two moons, is an artificial satellite. Some orbital observations suggested that Phobos is hollow, and its surface appeared featureless and with an unusually high albedo, suggesting it was a metallic sphere. That theory is mentioned briefly in Chapter 14 of the last link in the FPP, and in more detail here.
posted by TedW at 10:24 AM on February 13, 2012


Phobos is basically less a moon and more an agglomeration of asteroid derbies, which accounts for that.
posted by Artw at 10:29 AM on February 13, 2012


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