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How a color blind astronomer saw mysterious channels on Mars and changed world literature: Giovanni Schiaparelli
How a color blind astronomer saw mysterious channels on Mars and changed world literature: Giovanni Schiaparelli

The Martian Canals, discovered in 1877 by this Italian scientist, have an amazing feature. The fact is that they, apparently, never existed - despite the fact that and independently of Schiaparelli, extended straight lines on the surface of the red planet were once studied and sketched. One gets the impression that the main purpose of such a "discovery" was the occasion to write dozens and hundreds of best-selling books on the Martian theme.

How Giovanni Schiaparelli became an astronomer

Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli came from a family of scientists, and later this name was glorified by his niece, Elsa, having achieved fame and recognition in the world of haute couture. The future author of the hypothesis about the channels on Mars was born in 1835 in the Italian town of Savigliano. By family tradition, Giovanni looked for himself in science - after graduating from the University of Turin with an engineering degree, he continued his studies, choosing astronomy as his area of ​​interest.

Giovanni Schiaparelli

The innate feature of Schiaparelli did not interfere with his career development - his color blindness, however, vision problems eventually reduced the scientific experience of this astronomer. The middle of the 19th century was a period of special interest in space observation and the development of optical technology. Young Schiaparelli went to Berlin and worked there under the guidance of the astronomer Johannes Encke. The next page of his biography was the months of service at the Pulkovo Observatory with Otto Struve, a Russian astronomer. After that, in 1860, Schiaparelli returned to Italy and worked since then at the Brera Observatory in Milan, which he headed a couple of years later.

Brera Observatory in Milan

The young scientist established a connection between the Leonids and Perseids meteor showers with comets, discovered the asteroid Hesperia. After installing more powerful equipment, Schiaparelli turned his attention to the planets of the solar system, and primarily Mars. Astronomers of the second half of the 19th century were still highly dependent on proximity to the space objects under study, therefore, for the most important observations, the Italian waited for the great opposition of 1877 - a period when the distance between Earth and Mars was reduced to a minimum.

From an Italian magazine 1900

The scientist prepared himself: he refused everything that could affect the nervous system and affect the accuracy of observations - he avoided alcohol, sleeping pills and coffee. The year 1877 brought sensational results for that time: Schiaparelli discovered a network of lines on the surface of Mars, the origin of which seemed unknown.

Fashion for channels and literature about Mars

Schiaparelli saw and recorded extended straight lines on Mars - they formed complex patterns throughout the space from 60 degrees north latitude to 60 degrees south. The astronomer plotted these lines on a map and named them "channels", noting that their approximate width was about one hundred kilometers. The sensation was caused by an inaccuracy in translation: in the English version, "channels", which could be of natural or artificial origin, turned into unambiguous canals, that is, objects created by man.

Atlas of Mars by Schiaparelli

Schiaparelli himself did not confirm or refute the version that the creation of the Martian channels could be the results of someone's intelligent activity, at least in the first years after its discovery.Interestingly, the presence of long lines on the surface of the red planet was noticed even earlier, in 1862, by astronomers Angelo Secchi, William Daws and a number of others; and after Schiaparelli's notes, the Martian channels were observed by a number of respected astronomers in the scientific world.

Percival Lovell also saw channels on Mars

One of them was Percival Lovell, who went further and expanded the number of channels on Mars to six hundred, suggesting that these structures were created by the inhabitants of the planet to irrigate arid soil with melt water from the polar caps. By the way, the same scientist predicted the discovery of the ninth planet of the solar system and spent many years searching for it. When later, after the death of Percival Lovell, this planet was discovered, it was decided to assign it the name "Pluto", in which the astronomer's initials were encrypted.

Percival Lovell

Giovanni Schiaparelli himself did not exclude intelligent life on Mars, especially since, according to the data of that time, the planet, neighboring to the Earth, had similar conditions, including not only the tilt of the axis, but also the composition of the atmosphere; the presence of liquid water on Mars was also assumed. The then "fashionable" association with earthly artificial canals also worked: the Suez Canal had already been built and it was planned to connect the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans with the Panama Canal, and there were other large-scale projects to change the Earth's water surface ahead. And the very idea of ​​having brothers in mind nearby was extremely attractive. The Martian canals became the starting point for writers' fantasies about life on the fourth planet of the solar system.

Mariner Valley, photo from a modern camera

There were no Martian channels?

The movement was initiated by H.G. Wells and his War of the Worlds, published in 1898. A huge amount of mass literature was devoted to the Martian theme - novels about interplanetary travel and conquest, written by Burroughs, were published in whole series. Novels that are not designed to enter the golden fund of world literature, but are insanely attractive to the public as a "one-time" reading. There were also works that were much more significant from an artistic point of view: Ray Bradbury, after the publication of The Martian Chronicles, where the channels were not forgotten, woke up famous. Percival Lovell's book Mars as the Home of Life, published in 1908, was also a bestseller.

They wrote a lot about Mars in those years - and read even more

Schiaparelli himself completed his studies in 1890 - the deterioration of health affected. And the further study of Mars by telescopes of a new generation more and more clearly refuted the version about the presence of intelligent life there. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was established that the temperature on the planet is much lower than that at which favorable conditions for life would develop, and in addition, the atmospheric pressure turned out to be too low, which excluded the possibility of the existence of liquid water there. opposition, astronomers have not fixed any lines on Mars. True, Schiaparelli's hypothesis was not rejected: many scientists refused to admit the idea of ​​the fallacy of the initial research, and a number of astronomers not only managed to see the Martian channels, but also to photograph them.

Image of Mars in a periodical from the beginning of the last century

Nevertheless, later exploration of Mars, including photographing by the artificial satellite "Mariner-9" in 1971-1972, showed that there are a number of extended objects on Mars - terraces, canyons, but the bulk of the lines that were once observed through telescopes Schiaparelli and his colleagues were nothing more than an optical illusion, presumably revealing the not yet fully explained need of the human mind to see order where it does not exist. Or, perhaps, everything is really not simple with Mars, no matter what the latest spacecraft transmit from its surface.

From the movie "The Martian"

And here is the story of the astronomer's niece, Elsa Schiaparelli - an eccentric surrealist who was idolized by Salvador Dali and hated by Coco Chanel.

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