Mars - Scientific Theories and Mysteries

About Mars, scientific theories for the unexplained mysteries of Mars.


Theories and Mysteries: In 1877 the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli announced his observation of a network of thin lines on Mars. Although Schiaparelli never claimed that they were artificial, the American astronomer Percival Lowell declared them to be irrigation canals used by Martians to transport scarce water from the melting polar ice caps. Other astronomers saw only mottled details on the planet and came to suspect (correctly) that Lowell and his followers, observing at the far limit of vision, were permitting their eyes or imaginations to string these details into evidence of intelligent life. The canal controversy, perhaps the most colorful episode in the history of modern astronomy, subsided only when improved instruments allowed better resolution and interpretation of surface features.

If there are no signs of human life on Mars, it is nevertheless quite possible that other, simpler forms exist. A principal objective of the Viking mission was to search for this life. Although initial experiments provided positive results, no organic molecules were detected in later experiments. This ambiguity is clouded further by the possibility that positive results may have been caused by chemical processes peculiar to the Martian soil and atmosphere, rather than by biological activity. The question of whether or not life exists on Mars remains unsettled.

Photographs of the Martian surface show evidence of liquid erosion on a grand scale; it is virtually certain that this liquid was water. Although liquid water is absent now, it must have flowed abundantly in the past. If so, there was a substantially denser atmosphere in the past as well, required to keep the water from quickly vaporizing. Possibly the sun itself was hotter then, which would account for the water that eroded the features now seen on Mars. It seems more likely, however, that meteorite impacts or volcanic activity provided the heat to release frozen or chemically bound water and produce torrential rains and cataclysmic floods.

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