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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/58

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

convinced, after inspecting Schiaparelli's map, and hearing the story of what he has seen, that to throw discredit upon the substantial accuracy of his observations, marvelous though they may appear, is to do serious injustice to the great Italian astronomer.

And, now, what is it that Schiaparelli has seen on Mars? Many readers will probably at once answer "canals," for the fame of "Schiaparelli's canals" has become wide-spread, and that very word has, perhaps, done as much as anything to foster incredulity in regard to these discoveries. It is true that Schiaparelli himself suggested the name canals to describe the strange lines that he found traversing the continents of Mars, and forming, as it were, a network of intercommunication between its seas; but, at the same time, he indicated that that name was simply to be taken, for lack of a better, as descriptive of their general appearance, and not as implying that they were canals in our sense of the word. Of course, the term was at once restricted, in popular acceptation, to its terrestrial sense, and there have not been wanting speculations about the engineers who constructed those wonderful canals on Mars! Mr. Proctor rather helped on this fanciful interpretation of Schiaparelli's discovery by throwing out the suggestion that, owing to the slight force of gravity on Mars, we should not be too hasty in setting limits to the engineering achievements of the giants who might dwell upon that planet!

But, setting aside the manifestly false analogy which would make of Schiaparelli's "canals" actual artificial water-courses, we shall find that the real facts are not the less wonderful and suggestive of interesting reflections. Schiaparelli's first observations of these singular objects were made, as I have already said, during the opposition of Mars in 1877. It will be remembered that it was at that very same opposition that Prof. Hall, using the great Washington telescope, at that time the most powerful refractor in the world, discovered the moons of Mars. Yet Prof. Hall saw nothing wonderful or very unusual on the disk of the planet; and Schiaparelli, on the other hand, failed to discover the little moons. Hall's discovery was made in August; Schiaparelli's began in September. All this is very singular; but it seems still more strange that, while the moons of Mars, having once been discovered, were afterward seen with comparatively small telescopes, the canals have never been seen with the great glass at Washington, and that only three or four observers besides Schiaparelli have ever seen them. In the last annual report of the Naval Observatory for the year ending June, 1888, it is stated that the great telescope had been in constant use, under the charge of Prof. Hall, and that the surfaces of both Saturn and Mars were constantly and carefully examined, and drawings made from time to time. In the case of the latter planet the