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“Mars the Abode of Life” by Percival Lowell Report

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Updated: Nov 11th, 2021

In 1906, Professor Lowell was invited by the Lowell Institute to deliver a course of eight lectures on the planet Mars. These eight lectures were then published in six papers in the Century Magazine and subsequently published by the Macmillan and Company in book form. Though the primary focus of the book was planet Mars, it spoke of planetary evolution in general. It can be seen as the product of Professor Lowell’s research into the genesis and development of the world though it deals specifically with planet Mars.

Lowell considered planetology to be the link between the Nebular Hypothesis and the Darwinian Theory and a subject that helped bridge the gap between the two. It is in this context that Mars is treated in the book “Mars as the Abode of Life and the book explains how Mars came to exist and why it differs from the Earth. The findings in this book were made by Lowell at his private observatory at Flagstaff and include the evolution of the planets as worlds.

The book is aimed towards both professional and non-professional readers with mathematical portions presented separately from the textual portions. The book also includes illustrations of the planet Mar by Professor Lowell. The main arguments of the book revolve around the genesis of the world, the evolution of life, the dominance of the sun, Mars and the future of the earth, the canals and oases of Mars and proofs of life on Mars.

According to Percival, there are six stages involved in the progress of a planet from being sun to becoming cinder: the sun stage hot enough to emit light; the molten stage that is hot but lightless; the solidifying stage where a solid surface is formed; the terraqueous stage that involves sedimentary rocks; the terrestrial stage in which oceans have disappeared and the dead stage where the air has departed. The study of Mars helps in foreseeing what will eventually happen to earth. Percival says because Mars has smaller bulk, it ages quicker than earth and hence it has lost its oceans long back.

Percival Lowell presents a comprehensive picture of cosmic evolution with a particular focus on the origin of the solar system. He supported an evolutionary theory, the nebular hypothesis, in which planets formed from the cooling of gases in rings around stars. Lowell argued that different kinds of bodies developed from the accretion of different proportions of the same elements from the spiral nebula and this explains why outer planets contained more of the lighter material from the crust of the disrupted body such as hydrogen while the inner planets consisted of larger amounts of the heavier material from the interior of the original body.

Lowell also found that there was a perfect correlation between the sizes of these bodies and their distances from the primaries. He explained the retrograde rotation of Uranus, Neptune and certain satellites by accepting the notion that accreting particles will have retrograde rotation in their early stage after which they are given a direct rotation by forces of gravity. When tidal effects were weakened by distances as in the case of distant planets, there would be no change in the original retrograde motion. Thus Lowell’s theory is one that centered on regularity and predictability. Lowell also emphasized the homogeneous nature of the solar system.

Using his 24 inch Clark refracting telescope, Lowell observed interconnected “canals” covering the surface of Mars. He drew elaborate maps of the canals and their interconnecting “oases”. Lowell’s maps of the canals showed long straight lines that were often double and that met each other at small round dark areas that he called oases. He argued that the canals of Mars are unlike the natural formations seen on other planetary bodies. He deduced that these canals were artificial as they did not look like any natural phenomenon and he concluded, considering their network all over the planet that they must have been built by highly skilled engineers.

Moreover, in light of the fact that Mars’ atmosphere almost has no clouds, he deduced that these canals must be built in a desperate attempt to save Martian civilization from extinction by bringing water from the polar ice caps to the parched and sun-baked planet.

Thus according to him, Mars was an ancient land, drying up and choked in dust and that the Martian civilization must have constructed this elaborate planet-wide system of aqueducts to transport water from the melting polar ice caps to the dry equatorial regions of Mars. He also suggested that the changing dark patterns observed on Mars were actually large areas of vegetation that grew and receded with the Martian seasons. This again was offered by Percival Lowell as another proof of life on Mars. Life on Mars according to Lowell was intelligent but doomed.

Lowell has generated a lot of interest in Mars through his publications and semi-scientific theories. His arguments are well laid out so that even a layperson with no prior knowledge of astronomy would understand it. Along with such simple explanations, he has also included detailed illustrations and calculations to validate his arguments. His limitations seem to be that he did not have the technological advantage that is available to modern-day researchers and hence his work is often an extension of speculations based on observations without any solid basis.

Bibliography

Lowell, Percival (1908). Mars as the abode of life. Adamant Media Corporation.

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IvyPanda. "“Mars the Abode of Life” by Percival Lowell." November 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/mars-the-abode-of-life-by-percival-lowell/.

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