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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