Science and Canals on Mars

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Mars, the planet clearly fascinates us and someone notice canals on mars. Nowadays a helicopter is present there. This is the first time something like this will fly on the planet. There are several rovers present on its surface in many orbiting spacecraft are also studying it.

Why mars like our home?


If we go back into the 19th century Mars could be seen by a telescope and you could see the polarized ice caps. Even now you can see the features of Mars with a small telescope, its polar ice caps are visible and in a sense, it looks like our home. We can say that this is a place where probably other people are settled.


The 19th century, there were two developments because of which the idea can there be life somewhere else, took a scientific shape.


Two Developments

  • Spectroscopy
  • Evolution




One is “Spectroscopy”. This is a fancy word but it means if you pass sunlight through a Prism it separates the different colours. This sort of Prism is modified form where are now being attached behind the telescopes. These different colours or wavelengths of light, give us a lot of information.


Because of the spectroscopy we came to know what is the Sun made of (mainly hydrogen and helium) the atmosphere of other planets, what are other stars made of, all of this is linked to “Spectroscopy”.


the elements of Spectroscopy


Second was the elements of which life is made on Earth (and I live on Earth’s linked) are very common. Hydrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Sulphur, Phosphate etc etc etc are very common in the universe.




The Second development was of “Evolution” which Darwin and the co discoverer of natural selection Alfred Russel Wallace gave us. The main concept was that if you have simple life very simple and you give it time according to natural selection it modifies and eventually gives shape to complex life.



Combine these two things


If you combine these two things, elements, of which life is made off, and which are very common in the universe, and this evolution, process in can turn simple life into a complex one. Because of this the idea, that can there be life somewhere became scientific idea in the mid 19th century.



Canals record on Mars


If Mars was like our home or was like our earth than immediate question it can there be life over there or not. An Italian Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli was observing Mars very carefully in 1870s and 1880s.


Giovanni Schiaparelli saw Mars through a telescope but unlike today where you can take picture of Mars (Astro photography), you used to sketch what you would see.


Giovanni Schiaparelli saw Canals on Mars


He saw rather he claimed he has seen channels on Mars. Channels is a natural phenomena for example water flowing down the mountains are channels, But in Italian these channels are called canale which translate into English was called canals.


Canals are artificial, channels are natural but canals at least on Earth are dug by humans. Instantly people started to imagine that canals are present on Mars. This canal stuff attracted one Percival Lowell was obsessed with the idea that canals are present on Mars. Lowell had theories regarding the presence of the canals on Mars.



Why Canals Present On Mars


Percival Lowell idea was Mars is very dry planet. Compared to the Earth and with the help of spectroscopy, it was discovered that not much water is present there. He thought that Mars is like a desert but water was present in the past and according to the Percival Lowell there is an old civilisation on Mars, which is present there from a long time, and it’s very advanced civilisation and because the size of mars is less so because of less gravity, the people died on 9 or 10 feet tall and a civilisation is facing extinction because water is becoming scarce there.


That is why they are digging these canals to bring water so that water from the martian polar ice caps is available to them in the equatorial regions for agriculture.


Can water stay on mars’s atmosphere


During period that is 1890’s Astronomers were observing the atmosphere of mars through spectroscopy and had come to know that atmosphere of Mars is 1% rather in less than 1% of the Earth’s atmosphere that is its thickness is less than 1% on the Earth’s atmosphere. It means water cannot stay in liquid form on the surface of Mars.


The co discoverer of natural selection Alfred Russel Wallace wrote a book criticising Lowell’s ideas. He said only a race of madmen would build a canal on Mars because if they are making canals and atmosphere is is so thin all the water would evaporate so how can one make canals there.


But Lowell Kept on pursuing the matter although most of the astronomers thought that canals are not pleasant there. Even in New York Times, there was a big story in 1907.



That according to Professor Lowell more canals are being built on mars and in 1910 there a front page story that Martians are making more canals. There is no clear answer to this up-till now.


Brief Reasons Canals are present on Mars


There can be two possible things.

One is that if you are talking about 1880’s 1890’s the observation of Mars is pushing the limits of the telescope. By the beginning of the 20th century, the telescope and become so big that the features of Mars were relatively more visible.

In 1980’s & 1990’s people, trying to explore the limits of the telescope to see something on Mars. When you push the limits of any these instruments there is a possibility of over-interpreting the results. So some people think Lowell misinterpreted the lines he saw through a telephone on Mars.


The second one is about psychology, and this tells us that if you believe is something that is what you see in front of you. Maybe Lowell’s belief in these canals was so great that he could see those linear features on Mars so when he made those drawings he put those linear pictures on it.



Conclusion of Science


Now the lesson in this is that science is in a way an error correction mechanism. Because of this if you claim anything for example I say today I have seen Aliens here. This may be my belief but you don’t have to accept it because of my belief.


That’s the reason why is science evidence of any claim is tested by other people. This is a peer review process in which astronomers check is there a mistake in your claim before that such neutrinos have been found which travel faster than light when counter checked by other scientist prove to be false. Likewise, there are different claims and they are tested and if those ideas with stand those tests, they are gradually accepted.

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