Mars. IV. Oases
SUGGESTIVE of irrigation as the strange network of lines that covers the surface of Mars appears to be, the suggestion takes on more definite shape yet with the last addition to our knowledge of the planet's surface detail, the recognition of a singularly correlated system of spots. The canals, as we have seen, show a re-markable attachment to their kind. Not content with such casual meetings as chance would afford them in the course of their long careers, they make a point of rendezvousing as often and in as great numbers as possible. Indeed, the ingenuity with which they manage to combine unswerving rectitude with meetings by the way grows more and more marvelous, the more one studies it. The meeting-places, or junctions, evidently possess an attraction for the canals. The crossings, in fact, seem to be the end and aim of the whole system; the canals, but means to that end. So much is at once inferable from the great intrinsic improbability that such crossings can be due to chance.
The inference receives, apparently, striking verification from a something which turns out to exist at these junctions. This something shows itself as a round or ovate spot. To such spot, planted there in the midst of the desert, do the neighboring canals converge. Dotted all over the reddish-ochre ground of the great desert stretches of the planet, the so-called continents of Mars, are an innumerable number of dark circular or ovate spots. They appear, furthermore, always in intimate association with the canals. They constitute so many hubs to which the canals make spokes. These spots, together with the canals that lead to them, are the only markings to be seen anywhere on the continental regions. Otherwise the great reddish-ochre areas are absolutely bare; of that pale lire-opal hue which marks our own deserts seen from far. That these two things, straight lines and roundish spots, should, with our present telescopic means, be the sole markings to appear on the vast desert regions of the planet is suggestive in itself. Another significant fact as to the character of either marking is the manifest association of the two. In spite of the great number of the spots, not one of them stands isolate. There is not a single instance of a spot that is not connected by a canal to the rest of the dark areas. This remarkable inability to stand alone shows that the spots and the canals are not unrelated phenomena, for were there no tie between them they must occasionally exist apart. Nor is this all. There is, apparently, no spot that is not joined to the rest of the system, not only by a canal, but by more than one; for though some spots, such as the Fountain of Youth, have appeared at first to be provided with but a single canal connection, later observation has revealed concurrence in the case.
The spots are, therefore, not only part and parcel of the canal system, but terminal phenomena of the same. They are, generally speaking, more difficult features to see than the canals. In consequence, they have been among the most recent details to be made out upon the planet's surface. It was not until 1892, at Arequipa, that they were seen in anything like their real numbers. Of them, indeed, are the forty lakes found by Professor W. H. Pickering. This year, at Flagstaff, still others have been discovered, to detection of their character, as I think.
In the first place, as I have said, there appears to be no spot that has not two or more canals running to it; in the second place, I find, reversely, that apparently no canal junction is without its spot. Such association is a most tell-tale circumstance. I believe the rule to have no exception. The more prominent junctions all show spots; and with regard to the less conspicuous ones, it is to be remembered that, as the canals are more easy to make out than the spots, the relative invisibility of the latter is to be expected. From which it would seem that the spots are fundamental features of the junctions, and that for a junction to be spotless is, from its very nature, an impossibility.
Next to their regularity of position is to be remarked their regularity of form. Their typical shape seems to be circular; for the better the atmosphere, the rounder they look. Under poor seeing they show as irregular patches smooching the disc, much as the canals themselves show as streaks; the spots differing from the canals in being thicker and not so long. As the seeing improves, the patches differentiate themselves into round dots and connecting lines. Such is the shape of the spots associated with single canals; that is, canals not double. In the case of the double canals, the spots look like rectangles with the corners rounded off. One of the most striking of all of them is the Trivium Charontis, which is nearly square. Now it will be noticed that these shapes are as unnatural as they are definite, and that they all agree in one peculiarity: they are all convex, not concave, to the entering canals. They are not, therefore, mere enlargements of the canals, due to natural causes ; for were the spots enlargements of the canals at their crossing points they should be more or less star -shaped, or concave to the canals, whereas they are round, or roundish rectangles, that is, convex to the same. Such convexity negatives, at the outset, their being purely natural out-growths of the canals.
The majority of the spots are from 120 to 150 miles in diameter; thus presenting a certain uniformity in size as well as in shape. There are some smaller ones, not more than 75 miles across, or less. To the spot category belong all the markings other than canals to be seen anywhere on the continental deserts of the planet, from the great Lake of the Sun, which is 540 miles long by 300 miles broad, to the tiny Fountain of Youth, which is barely distinguishable as a dot. That all are fundamentally of a kind is hinted at by their shape and emphasized by their character, a point to which we shall come in a moment. To this end, we will start with an account of where and how they begin to show; for, like the canals, they are not permanent markings, but temporary phenomena. It is in the region about the Solis Lacus that they appear first. The Solis Lacus, or Lake of the Sun, is perhaps the most striking marking on Mars. It is an oval spot in lat. 28 S., with its greater diameter nearly perpendicular to the meridians, and encircled by an elliptical ring of reddish-ochre land, which in turn is bordered on the south by the blue-green regions of the south temperate zone. The whole configuration is such as to simulate a gigantic eye which uncannily turns round upon one as the planet slowly revolves. It is so conspicuous a feature of the disc that it has been recognized for a great many years. The resemblance to an eye is further borne out by a cordon of canals that surround it on the north. Upon this cordon, composed chiefly of the Araxes and the Agathodaemon, are beaded a number of spots, two of them, the Phoenix and the Tithonus lakes, being conspicuously prominent. Closer scrutiny reveals several more of the same sort, only smaller. These are all interconnected by a network of canals. Now just as it is in this region that the canals first show, so like-wise is it here that the spots first make their appearance.
Although it was here that at this last opposition the spots were first seen, it was not here that their character and purpose became apparent. It was not until later in the season, when the Eumenides-Orcus began to give evidence of being yet more peculiarly beaded, that the true nature of the spots suggested itself. The Eumenides-Orcus is a very long and important canal, connecting the Phoenix Lake with the Trivium Charontis. It is so long, 3540 miles from one end of it to the other, that although it starts in lat. 16 N., and ends in lat. 12 S., it belts the disc not many degrees inclined to the equator. For a great distance it runs parallel to the northern coast of the Sea of the Sirens. From this coast several canals strike down to it; some stopping at it, others continuing on down the disc. Especially is the western end of the sea, called the Gulf of the Titans, a point of departure for canals; no less than six of them, and doubtless more, leaving the gulf in variously radiating directions. At the place where these canals severally cross the Eumenides-Orcus, I began in November to see spots. I also saw others along the Pyriphlegethon, an important canal leading in a more northerly direction from the Phoenix Lake; along the Gigas, a great canal running from the Gulf of the Titans all the way to the Lake of the Moon; and along other canals in the same region. I then noticed that the spots to the north of the Solis Lacus region had darkened, since August, relatively to the more southern ones. In short, I became aware both of a great increase in the number of spots, and of an increase in tint in the spots previously seen. It was apparent that the spots were part and parcel of the canal system, and that in the matter of varying visibility they took after the canals, chronologically, very closely after them; for a comparison of the two leads me to be- described. The point of development attained is, as regards its capabilities, precisely measured by the planet's own age, since the one is but a symptom of the other. Now, in the special case of Mars, we have before us the spectacle of an old world, a world well on in years, a world much older relatively than the earth, halfway between it and the end we see so sadly typified by our moon, a body now practically past possibility of change. To so much about his age Mars bears evidence on his face. He shows unmistakable signs of being old. What we know would follow advancing planetary years is legible there. His continents are all smoothed down; his oceans have all dried up. If he ever had a jeunesse orageuse, it has long since been forgotten. Although called after the most turbulent of the gods, he is, and probably always has been, one of the most peaceful of the heavenly bodies. His name is a sad misnomer; indeed, the ancients seem to have been singularly unfortunate in their choice of planetary cognomens. With Mars so peaceful, Jupiter so young, and Venus bashfully dropped in cloud, the planets' names accord but ill with their temperaments.
Mars being thus old himself, we know that evolution on his surface must be similarly advanced. This only informs us of its condition relative to the planet's capabilities. Of its actual state our data are not definite enough to furnish much deduction. But from the fact that our own development has been comparatively a recent thing, and that a long time would be needed to bring even Mars to his present geological condition, we may judge any life he may support to be not only relatively, but really, more advanced than our own. From the little we can see, such appears to be the case. The evidence of handicraft, if such it be, points to a highly intelligent mind behind it. Irrigation, unscientifically conducted, would Marsnot give us such truly wonderful mathematica fitness in the several parts to the whole as we there behold. A mind of no mean order would seem to have presided over the system we see, a mind certainly of considerably more comprehensiveness than that which presides over the various departments of our own public works. Party politics, at all events, have had no part in them; for the system is planet wide. Quite possibly, such Martian folk are possessed of inventions of which we have not dreamed, and with them electrophones and kinetoscopes are things of a bygone past, preserved with veneration in museums as relics of the clumsy contrivances of the simple childhood of their kind. Certainly, what we see hints at the existence of beings who are in advance of, not behind us, in the race of life. For answers to such problems we must look to the future.
That Mars seems to be inhabited is not the last, but the first word on the subject. More important than the mere fact of the existence of living beings there is the question of what they may be like. Whether we ourselves shall live to learn this cannot, of course, be foretold. One thing, however, we can do, and that speedily: look at things from a standpoint raised above our local point of view; free our minds at least from the shackles that of necessity tether our bodies; recognize the possibility of others in the same light that we do the certainty of ourselves. That we are the sum and substance of the capabilities of the cosmos is something so preposterous as to be exquisitely comic. We pride ourselves upon being men of the world, forgetting that this is but objectionable singularity, unless we are in some wise men of more worlds than one. For after all, we are but a link in a chain. Man is merely this earth's highest production up to date. That he in any sense gauges the possibilities of the universe is humorous. He does not, as we can easily foresee, even gauge those of this planet. He has been steadily bettering from an immemorial past, and will apparently continue to improve through an incalculable future. Still less does he gauge the universe about him. He merely typifies in an imperfect way what is going on elsewhere, and what, to a mathematical certainty, is in some corners of the cosmos indefinitely excelled.
If astronomy teaches anything, it teaches that man is but a detail in the evolution of the universe, and that resemblant though diverse details are inevitably to be expected in the host of orbs around him. He learns that though he will probably never find his double anywhere, he is destined to discover any number of cousins scattered through space.