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No. 57: May-Jun 1988

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Martian canals: is lowell vindicated?

Whenever we get the opportunity, we try to clear Percival Lowell's name. Lowell may have gone too far in claiming that the canals of Mars were the labors of intelligent beings, but he definitely saw "something." Earthbound observers still see and photograph Martian canals, despite the acknowledged fact that Martian orbiters and landers saw nothing resembling canals.

R. Gordon now relates how on June 6, 1967, he and a friend, W.H. McHugh, were viewing Mars through an 8-inch f/9 reflecting telescope. The thick haze reduced atmospheric transparency, but the seeing was excellent. The infamous canals were there!

"Two canals stretched clearly from Sabaeus Sinus and Meridiani Sinus to the northern deserts, where they faded. A most interesting canal was Deuteronilus-Protonilus -- originating in Niliacus Lacus which ran both east and west until I lost sight of it near the limb -- we counted at least six oases on this one, strung out like beads on a string."

(Gordon, Rodger; "Martian Canals: Is Lowell Vindicated?" Sky and Telescope, 75:348, 1988.)

Comment. Yes, some of the canals that Lowell and others drew are still there -- not physically perhaps -- but possibly as anomalies of perception and/or camera/telescope aberrations.

Reference. The Martian "canal" story is covered in detail in AMO1 in our catalog The Moon and the Planets and handbook Mysterious Universe. To order these books, visit: here.

Lowell's Projection of Mars showing the major canals as he saw them A Mercator Projection of Mars drawn by Lowell, showing the major canals as he saw them. The black dots are oases (From: The Moon and the Planets).

From Science Frontiers #57, MAY-JUN 1988. 1988-2000 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