High Strangeness: Mars Is Watching Us

Monday, April 20, 2015

Mars Is Watching Us

In my ongoing efforts to write about any UFO-related topic but the "Roswell Slides," I will today share a funny story about aliens living on the planet Mars. You're welcome.

Science a century ago was pretty funny. Not only did you have wealthy armchair astronomer Percival Lowell building his own personal observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, for the sole purpose of surveying the surface of Mars, but on top of that you had ordinary, reasonable, decent-thinking people all over the world convinced (by Lowell) that intelligent life existed on our neighboring planet, and might want to destroy us.

I have recently read Lowell's three books about his survey of Mars, and it is mind-boggling that so many people found his arguments so persuasive... In "Mars," "Mars and Its Canals," and "Mars As The Abode of Life," Lowell explained that the "canals" on Mars were not natural features of the planet, but were in fact constructed by intelligent life forms to channel water from the melting Martian icecap to the more moderate middle latitudes, to irrigate the vast crops that were essential to the Martians' survival.

Strangely, those nonexistent vast crops were every bit as visible to Lowell and his assistants as the nonexistent canals were. Lowell credited his fine view of Mars to the location of his observatory in Flagstaff, at an elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level. Other observatories had larger telescopes, but only Lowell’s was perched where it could get “as good air as practicable, at Flagstaff,” according to the Preface to his book “Mars.” “A steady atmosphere is essential to the study of planetary detail: size of instrument being a very secondary matter,” he went on, apparently in all seriousness. “A large instrument in poor air will not begin to show what a smaller one in good air will. When this is recognized, as it eventually will be, it will become the fashion to put up observatories where they may see rather than be seen.”

Okay, Percy.

Lowell's biographer had this to say about Lowell's influence: 

“…it was widely believed… that positive evidence had been found for the existence of intelligent life on earth’s neighboring planet Mars. This belief stirred an extraordinary controversy that for a time involved much of the literate world. Eminent scientists, philosophers, and moralists joined in the unprecedented debate, while ordinary people everywhere followed its course in books, at lectures, and through lengthy, detailed accounts in newspapers and magazines of the day.”

So pervasive was Lowell's thinking that eminent science-fiction authors H. G. Wells ("The War of the Worlds") and Edgar Rice Burroughs ("A Princess of Mars" and its umpteen sequels) acknowledged his influence on their work.

But the most charming result of Lowell's thinking has got to be this 1912 article from the Sunday "Magazine Section" of the Salt Lake Tribune, in which a real, professional astronomer who was, apparently, very secure in his post at the Lick Observatory, expounded on his theory that Mars was inhabited by a vast, intelligent vegetable with an insatiable appetite for learning, and a very strange appendage....

You read it first in the Salt Lake Tribune!
The astronomer, a Professor Campbell, insisted that the eye of Mars could rise miles above the planet's surface on its invisible stalk (!), from where it could monitor its intelligent plant-y activities anywhere, any time. And when it wasn't busy doing that, it was a celestial Peeping Tom, keeping a close watch on earth and our earthly activities... Is it any wonder the curtains & blinds business went through the roof after this article ran?

It's hard to say what I love most about this article... The fact that an eminent scientist felt free to openly engage in some truly un-Neil Degrasse Tyson-y musings? The wondrous, near 3-D illustration of the eye on its stalk, staring coldly and covetously at the earth?

Nope, my favorite part is this short sentence by the author of the article, vouching for Professor Campbell's "eyepothesis":

“This theory (of life on Mars) is one of the most plausible that has been put forward."
Funny thing is, in 1912 that was a true statement...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I wish Disney could explain everything to me!