Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 83: Sep-Oct 1992

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











Did barnard & mellish really see craters on mars?

The answers are "No" and "Probably," respectively. Well, so what? Everyone knows from spacecraft photos that Mars is definitely peppered with craters; and who are Barnard and Mellish anyway?

E.E. Barnard was one of the great American telescopic observers. J.E. Mellish was an amateur astronomer and a protege of Barnard. Both men may have seen Martian craters; Barnard at Lick Observatory in the early 1890s, and Mellish at Yerkes in 1915. These early dates are what make this story interesting, because prior to the Mariner-4 flyby of Mars in 1965, anyone claiming to have seen craters on Mars would have been labeled a crackpot. Just a mere three decades ago, planetary catastrophism was a ridiculous notion.

Barnard never dared publish his drawings of Martian craters for fear of ruining his reputation. Mellish was not so reticent. He wrote and lectured widely on his anomalous observations. No one believed him because his observaconflicted with reigning paradigms.

Once the paradigm shifted and craters on other planets were legitimized, astronomers looked back and wondered if Barnard and Mellish really did see craters. After all, nobody else had, although several reknowned astronomers had drawn networks of canals they had definitely seen. Some of Barnard's early sketches of Mars surfaced in 1987. They show known volcanos and the huge canyon complex called Valles Marineris, but the spots (thought to be craters) do not coincide with any known craters. Unfortunately, Mellish's drawings of his craters were destroyed by fire a year before the Mariner-4 flyby. However, Mellish's verbal descriptions of the craters are very convincing; and his honesty and accuracy are well-known. So, if anyone really did see pre-Mariner Martian craters, it was probably Mellish.

(Sheehan, William; "Did Barnard & Mellish Really See Craters on Mars?" Sky and Telescope, 84:23, 1992.)

Comment. Actually, the Martian craters are not the focus here; rather, it is the tyranny of a paradigm that blinds humans to objective realities. Are there other phenomena that we do not perceive because we know they cannot exist? Need you ask this anomalist?

From Science Frontiers #83, SEP-OCT 1992. 1992-2000 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