Lowell, Percival (1855–1916)
This may be put popularly as an investigation into the condition of life on other worlds, including last but not least their habitability by beings like [or] unlike man... there is strong reason to believe that we are on the eve of pretty definite discovery in the matter.As to the nature of Schiaparelli's canali he had no doubt: "... in them we are looking upon the result of the work of some sort of intelligent beings ..."
Together with Pickering and Andrew Douglass, he set up two sizable telescopes (a 12-inch and an 18-inch refractor), both on loan, at a hastily erected observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona (see Lowell Observatory). By August, he was sketching canals and other intricate features on the martian surface, including dark spots where the canals intersected. Pickering had first reported seeing these spots, which he referred to as "lakes" in 1892. Now, Lowell saw them, too, and renamed them "oases". In his mind, they were the tracts of vegetation (see vegetation on Mars) irrigated by meltwater brought by the canals from the poles. After seeing Mars at just one opposition, Lowell launched a publicity blitzkrieg to announce his theory about the grand hydrological schemes of an alien race. Numerous articles, lectures, and a book, Mars,1 by him in 1895 were greeted with fascination by the public and extreme skepticism, if not outright derision, by most astronomers. When asked which books he had enjoyed reading recently, British astronomer Norman Lockyer replied, "Mars by Percival Lowell, Sentimental Tommy by J. M. Barrie. (No Time for Reading Seriously)." And here is James Keeler, who became Director of the Lick Observatory in California, speaking at the dedication ceremony of the Yerkes Observatory at Williams Bay, Wisconsin in 1897:
It is to be regretted that the habitability of the planets, a subject of which astronomers profess to know little, has been chosen as a theme for exploitation by the romancer, to whom the step from habitability to inhabitants is a very short one. The result of his ingenuity is that fact and fantasy become inextricably tangled in the mind of the layman, who learns to regard communication with inhabitants of Mars as a project deserving serious consideration ... and who does not know that it is condemned as a vagary by the very men whose labors have excited the imagination of the novelist.
Irrigation, unscientifically conducted, would not give us such truly wonderful mathematical fitness ... A mind of no mean order would seem to have presided over the system we see - a mind certainly of considerably more comprehensiveness than that which presides over the various departments of our own public works. Party politics, at all events, have no part in them; for the system is planet-wide ...From lines to canals to canal-builders to world government! Lowell published two further books, Mars and Its Canals2 (1906) and Mars as the Abode of Life3 (1908), and continued to argue vociferously for the existence of a canal network until his death in 1916.
Related categories ASTRONOMERS AND ASTROPHYSICISTS
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