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No. 83: Sep-Oct 1992

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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