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No. 53: Sep-Oct 1987

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Hypnotic Mars

As we tried to convey in SF#52, scientists (and most people, in fact) have a strong innate urge to "close the book on problems"; that is, come up with final, absolute solutions. Apparently nature -- Mars, at least -- is not cooperating. When the Mariner and Viking spacecraft found no traces of Martian canals, most astronomers "closed the book" on the century-old Martian canals. Percival Lowell and all the other able astronomers who also saw the canal networks were obviously deluded.

Wouldn't you know it, those canals haven't gone away! Consider this testimony of I. Dyer:

"As staff photographer and observer at Lowell Observatory during the 1960-61 apparition of Mars, I spent several nights scrutinizing the planet's surface through the 24-inch Clark refractor. At instants of steady seeing I saw, and attempted to photograph, an apparent network of fine lines. Unfortunately, I was unable to duplicate clearly what I saw. Still, several of the more visually distinct 'canals' can be traced on my original prints. each is a composite of the finest four to eight images out of 49. Such prints suppress grain, remove artifacts and enhance detail."

The canals thus photographed match some of lowell's well, although some of his detail is lacking. (Dyer, Ivan; "Martian Canals," Sky and Telescope, 73:605, 1987.)

Comment. Let's open that "book" on the canals. Even better, let's never close books prematurely on any phenomena.

Reference. More on the history of the canals and modern observations of them may be found in AMO1 in our catalog: The Moon and the Planets. To order, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #53, SEP-OCT 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987