Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/525

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY

 

DECEMBER, 1909




THE PLANET VENUS[1]
By Dr. PERCIVAL LOWELL

FLAGSTAFF, ARIZ.

THE special object of the observatory which I have the honor to represent is the study of planets of our solar system, beginning with their present state and passing thence to their evolutionary history. So extended to-day is the astronomic field that to do good work one must specialize his endeavor, restricting himself to one particular branch of it and incidentally refraining, we may add, from discussing that of which he has not expert knowledge. Now research on the planets constitutes one such division, making as it were, an entity in itself. For diverse as the planets are to-day, they are all the result of one particular evolutionary process and knowledge of each member throws light upon the development, past or present, of the others.

It is popularly imagined that our gaze is concentrated on Mars, to the exclusion of much else, and that we are particularly concerned with its habitability. That this is a popular fallacy I shall show you tonight. For we shall contemplate together another planet in the light that study of the past thirteen years at the Lowell Observatory casts upon it, and we shall see not only that such a study has indicated it not to be habitable, but that the question of habitability has not in the least affected our research. In short, to us habitation by organic life or non-habitation is merely an incident in the study of a planet's history, which we view with as strict scientific impartiality as we do the presence or absence of water-vapor in its air. We are concerned solely with the facts, a romantic enough revelation in themselves.

Venus, I need not remind you, is the planet which stands orbitally next inside the earth in the solar family. To us she is by far the most brilliant star in the firmament, excelling Sirius some sixteenfold and

  1. An evening lecture at the vicennial of Clark University.