JF Ptak Science Books Post 2759
There was good strong debate on the issues of Martian “canals” and whether or not they were there by chance or by Percival Lowell's (and others) intelligent design. The debate dates range from about 1886 to 1909 or so, though the real method in the intelligent life argument comes in at about 1895. The “1909” part of the endgame is embodied in the interesting paper “Observations de la planete Mars, faites a l'Observatoire de Meudon”1 by Eugene Michel Antoniadi, which is also the holder of some superior and evocative vocabulary and imagery.
Antoniadi made a series of painstakingly-executed photos of the planet with Europe's largest telescope (the 33" "Grande Lunette") at Meudon. They revealed that the canals as hard geometric forms had indeed been a sort of optical illusion, and that the new and more-definitive photographs showed them in their true and far more complex existence, more as naturally-occurring objects than something that was designed by another life form.
(“During the planetary opposition in 1909, Antoniadi observed Mars at the celebrated 33-inch Meudon Observatory telescope, the largest in Europe. Although he observed for only nine nights during a month-long stay in Paris, he reported seeing Mars so clearly at times that the linear appearance of the canals dissolved into an intricate mess of smaller, irregular details, and he noted that 'the geometrical "canal" network is an optical illusion; and in its place the great refractor shows myriads of marbled and chequered objective fields, which no artist could ever think of drawing'.)--“Mapping the Mars Canal Mania: Cartographic Projection and the Creation of a Popular Icon”, Imago Mundi, 58:2, 2006.
The Antoniadi photos came only about five years after the true "first" photograph of what were thought to be canals was made by Percival Lowell's assistant, Carl O. Lampland. (Antoniadi by the way spent nine years as a special assistant to Camille Flammarion at his personal observatory.) In addition to the debate of how the “canals” came to be, there was another on whether the features identified as “canals” were there at all. It was Lampland's work that seemed to settle at least that issue, establishing photographically that there was indeed something there. Lowell seized on this work as confirmation of his theories--that if the canals were proven to be there then it followed logically that his iterations of Martian intelligence would also be true. Here Lowell probably acted too rashly, as the photos showed that the canals also weren't like the patterned and highly-geometrical structures shown in Lowell's maps. (That said, the British Astronomical Society adopted the position in their 1906 annual meeting that the Lampland photos served as the confirmation that Lowell had been seeking...)
The Lowell canals as constructed objects hypothesis lost steam after 1905, and met the large part of its end on the work by Antoniadi on what was evidently a perfect night of viewing on 30 September 1909, the primum mobili aspect removed in favor of natural causes.
In the paper Antoniadi observed 50 canals and before he described them he defined them, the definition coming from one of the original namers of the canals as “canali” (or “channels”)--Schiaparelli--and not Lowell, who interpreted the “canali” as “canals”, with the armature that they were constructed by someone or something. Antoniadi writes with certainty in this paper: “a canal is a [banrle?] or greyish line of regions called the differences of brightness of neighboring points, which constitute the details of the image...”2 which leads us far away from the material intelligence argument.
Antoniadi then sets down an 8-point descriptive list of canal characteristics, which is beautifully written and when presented in a certain way takes on a very poetic form. His original description reads: “(a) En ombres diffuses, plus ou moins îrréijulières, dont quelques-unes paraissent doubles d'une manière fugitive; (b) en estompages noueux; (c) en masses grises, informes et disjointes; (d) en estompages irréguliers, minces dans le vcuMiiage d'une haie des mers martiennes, et s'élargissnnt en une ombre vaste et confuse plus loin, comme des neuves avec leurs tributaires, vus a une très grande distance; (e) en alignements d'un très petit nombre de lacs; (f) en lacs in-éguliers, simples et bien isoler-; (g) en bords de pâles demi-tons; (h) en lignes noires très courtes, sinueuses ou courbes.”
Here's the description, reformatted and translated:
“Our observations lead us to divide the channels into several categories, namely:
In diffuse shadows, more or less irregular, some of which appear
double in a fleeting way;
In gnarled blobs;
In gray masses, shapeless and disjointed;
In irregular, thin blurring, in the construction of a hedge of
Martian seas, and widen into a vast and confused shadow further on, like
new with their tributaries, seen at a great distance;
In alignments of a very small number of lakes;
In 'simple lakes, simple and well insulated;
In edges of pale semitones;
In very short black lines, sinuous or curved.
Antoniadi concludes (translated):
“In this nomenclature, we have not understood the fugitive straight lines, often called channels, which are visible only during a fraction of second and which can be due to an illusion.. These first observations do not confirm the existence of a network of geometric straight lines, crisscrossing in all directions. Even, by very calm images, we have recognized, not in a fleeting way but for several consecutive seconds, a structure of continental regions quite different from the previous one. These regions are shown covered with a large amount of greyish mottling, irregular, complex and gnarled, which no artist can render.
I was very surprised to find such a significant paper rendered in such a poetic manner.
1. ANTONIADI, E.-M. “Observations de la planete Mars, faites a l'Observatoire de Meudon. In: Comptes Rendus, 15 November 1909, pp 836-838 in the weekly issue, WITH a lovely full-page map of Mars.
2. Antoniadi remarks elsewhere that the lack of geometry on the planet "was conspicuous by its complete absence".--McKim, R. J., “The life and times of E.M. Antoniadi, 1870-1944. Part II: The Meudon years”, Journal of the British Astronomical Association, vol.103, no.5, p.219-227, 1993. There is a long report with 100 illustrations by Antoniadi in the Memoirs of the British Astronomical Association (vol XX, part II) published in the second year of the War, 1915--on the cover of that report is a very strong but still measured statement by George Ellery Hale: "The total absence of straight lines...seems to me significant".
McKim goes on to note the polite correspondence between Antoniado and Lowell, including the very generous suggestion to Lowell that the later's observations were obscured and complicated by Martian cloud cover.