Percival Lowell saw features on Mars and Venus that weren't really there. So what did he see? Continue reading →
¡SkyCaramba! Weekly astronomy blog for the week ending March 22, 2014
The most convincing beliefs we have are those we convince ourselves of. Even when confronted with evidence that what he hold true is false, we are not quick to abandon the conclusions we ourselves drew. The things Percival Lowell was most famous for are examples.
Around 1893, Lowell heard about Giovanni Schiaparelli’s purported observations of waterways on Mars in 1877. In Italian, Schiaparelli called them canali, which would be accurately translated channels. But canali looks like the word canal, and writers frequently mistranslated it. How much more exciting it was to think artificial canals (like the Suez Canal) instead of natural channels (like the English Channel) crossed Mars.
Lowell built an observatory to study Mars in time for its next close approach in 1894. To his delight, he saw canals too. Over the next 22 years, he published three books and gave many speeches about them. He also observed greenish areas of the red planet’s surface to change in brightness and the planet’s polar ice caps to grow and ...