The New York Times/Martians Build Two Immense Canals in Two Years

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Martians Build Two Immense Canals in Two Years  (1911) 
by Mary Proctor
The New York Times, August 27, 1911
MARTIANS BUILD TWO IMMENSE CANALS IN TWO YEARS


Vast Engineering Works Accomplished in an Incredibly

Short Time by Our Planetary Neighbors ---

Wonders of the September Sky.


These Two Drawings by Prof. Lowell and Prof. E. C. Slipher Show the New Canals Just Observed.
Martian Canals Summer 1911.jpg


ACCORDING to a telegram dated Aug. 17, from Flagstaff Observatory, Arizona, Dr. Percival Lowell announces the rediscovery of two new canals of Mars, which were seen for the first time at the last opposition in 1909. The canals are now very conspicuous, and attracting world-wide attention because of their startling significance.

Prof. Percival Lowell, Discoverer of the Canals on Mars

Measurement of their dimensions shows each of them to be a thousand miles long and some twenty miles wide. In comparison, the canon of the Colorado River would be a secondary affair. What has been the cause of these vast chasms which have suddenly opened on Mars, where the internal forces are far less than could possibly be the case with our planet? Nothing like it has ever been seen or heard of before. To witness the coming into existence on another world of a surface feature in what we know to be no airy cloud-built fabric, but the solidest of ground, is in its character an even so far of unique occurrence.

That these vast chasms have been caused by some internal disturbance is out of the question, for shattering of the sort would certainly have left its mark in yawning, cavernous abysses - such as we see on our own planet in regions where volcanic disturbances have taken place. In the case of the new canals recently observed on Mars, such widespread, shattering effects are altogether absent, and as Dr. Lowell expresses it: "The outcome is purely local, and of most orderly self-restraint at that. An enormous change in the planet's features has taken place, with no concomitant disruption beyond the bounds it set. The whole thing is wonderfully clear-cut."

That the new canals were not a mere illusion or vagary of the imagination is proven by the fact that they are again visible, but they are as great a problem now as they were when first seen in 1909. Canals a thousand miles long and twenty miles wide are simply beyond our comprehension. Even though we are aware of the fact that, owing to the mass of the planet being a little less than one-ninth of the earth's mass, a rock which here weighs one hundred pounds would, there only weigh thirty-eight pounds, engineering operations being in consequence less arduous than here, yet we can scarcely imagine the inhabitants of Mars capable of accomplishing this Herculean task within the short interval of two years.

The Great Telescope at Lowell Observatory.

Examining the Flagstaff records for the past sixteen years, during which Mars has been kept under observation, no record has been found of these canals. We are sure that seasonal changes cannot explain them, and that eleven years ago, no such canals existed, nor before their discovery in 1909. In Martian chronology, they not only did not exist in their present state during the previous Martian year, but also not four, five and six Martian years before that. It is also certain that they were not in existence thirty and thirty-two years ago, inasmuch as Schiaparelli (the Milanese astronomer who first detected the canals of Mars) never saw them.

The observer can never be quite sure that his data are comparable until he has himself seen the Martian disk under like conditions, or nearly such, which recurrent presentations require a lapse of fifteen to seventeen years. Furthermore, to be conclusive, the observations must all have been made by the same observer working under like conditions, and grown in consequence, familiar with every detail of the disk, since the personal equation including by that term the site, instrumental methods and equipment,is always a factor.

A Martian cycle, that is a round of about sixteen years, must have been through by the same observer before definitive judgment can be pronounced. Such a cycle now stands complete at Flagstaff, and they prove conclusively by the records that although Mars has been observed four times previously at the same season of the Martian year at which these two new canals appeared, no such canals then existed.

They were first detected on Sept. 30, 1909 when the region known as the Syrtis Major came around again into view after its periodic hiding of six weeks, due to the unequal rotation periods of the earth and Mars. Two canals were at once evident to the east of the Syrtis in places where no canals had been previously seen.

Not only was their appearance unprecedented, but the canals themselves were the most conspicuous ones on that part of the disk. With the two main canals were associated several smaller ones, and at least two oases, all previously unseen, while from their interconnection they all clearly made part of one and the same addition to the general canal system.

Many independent drawings of the phenomena were made, both by the Director, Percival Lowell, and his assistant, Mr. E. C. Slipher, and in the course of the next few days the canals were photographed, appearing on the plates as the most marked features on that part of the planet. The record books were then examined, when it appeared that not a trace of them was to be found in the drawings of May, June, July or August when this part of the planet was most carefully observed and drawn. That they had not been observed in previous years was then conclusively ascertained by examination of the records of those years.

The record of canals seen at Flagstaff is registered at the Lowell Observatory after each opposition or near approach of the planet, when it is well placed for observation. From these records a fresh map, including all new details observed, is made of the planet's surface. These maps are, therefore, of the greatest value in enabling us to trace any peculiarities or changes on Mars, and they keep us in touch with any alterations which may be taking place on that planet. What new revelations are in store for us, at the present opposition, we know not, but of one fact we are certain, and that is the untiring energy and boundless enthusiasm of Dr. Lowell and his able assistants at the Lowell Observatory will make it simply impossible for any detail of the slightest significance on Mars to escape their vigilance.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1957, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.