Map showing canals on Mars

Canals on Mars

Some 19th and early 20th century astronomers thought they could see linear marks on Mars and speculated that they were an alien civilisation's canals. The Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli and others named the features canali, Italian for channels.

The American Percival Lowell popularised the idea that intelligent life forms had created the canals, as the features came to be known. Many other astronomers were sceptical. It is now thought that well-intentioned pioneers mistook ordinary Martian surface features for canals.

Photo: Map showing Martian canals (Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans)

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Map showing canals on Mars

About Canals on Mars

Early telescopes and active imaginations create controversy.

About Canals on Mars

For a time in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was erroneously believed that there were canals on Mars. These were a network of long straight lines in the equatorial regions from 60° N. to 60° S. Lat. on the planet Mars. They were first described by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli during the opposition of 1877, and confirmed by later observers. Schiaparelli called these canali, which was translated into English as "canals". The Irish astronomer Charles E. Burton made some of the earliest drawings of straight-line features on Mars, although his drawings did not match Schiaparelli's. By the early 20th century, improved astronomical observations revealed the "canals" to be an optical illusion, and modern high resolution mapping of the Martian surface by spacecraft shows no such features.

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