Canals and the skeptic

Mars canals

  The above drawings show the canals and oases of Mars which in the late 19th
century became more prominent with the melting of the nearest polar cap or so it
was claimed at that time. In a never ending on going process, science progresses
by continuously cleaning out its closets of old incorrect information as new
observations and experiments reveal the errors. Our Earth continues to overtake
Mars for the rendezvous in December. Have you ever wondered what Schiaparelli,
Lowell, W. H. Pickering, Campbell, Hussey and others were seeing at the eyepiece
to draw the canale, channels or canals on the Mars sketches they made? The answer
may have been explained by Vincenzo Cerulli an Italian astronomer living at the
same time as Giovanni Schiaparelli and Percival Lowell. After the “canal skeptic”,
Cerulli  studied Mars for a couple of oppositions, he found he could duplicate
the canals or lines seen by many Mars observers using opera glass to examine small
features on the moon.
 This phenomenon is neither an illusion nor a real exact representation. It is the
eye and brain interacting to fill in small faint features. If you casually examine
the faces on USA paper currency you will see lines across the foreheads. If you
look again using a magnifying glass you can see these lines are dashes and dots. So
if you begin to see canals on Mars near the end of the year, its just you eyes and
brain conspiring to play tricks on you. The time to observe Mars again is just
beginning. Don’t forget to make drawings or log records.
  The above drawings are from page 358 of David P. Todd’s, A New Astronomy © 1897,
American Book Company
  Frank McCabe

2 thoughts on “Canals and the skeptic”

  1. Thanks Frank I just love to see these classic drawings.
    I have just completed reading Sheehans super “Planets & Perception” this book thoroughly examines just how complex the canals of Mars story is. There is one particular quote in that tome that captures our struggle as planetary observers & sketchers refering to the almost painful transfer from image at the ep to drawing on paper. I will add it as an aside to my next submission.

    Wishing clear Mars filled skies to all, Dale

  2. Dale,

    I’m pleased you like theses old images as do I. It’s also nice to know that from your observing location you will get to see Mars high in the sky unlike your view of Jupiter this summer.


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