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Mars - The Mystery of Mars

Until the Mariner probes visit to Mars, there has always been a bit of mystery surrounding this planet. Most of this mysticism is evident in movies and literature of the time - like the War of the Worlds radio drama by Orson Wells. The idea of "Martians" was the birth of the movie aliens we see even today. But where did all of this come from?

In 1877, Giovanni Schiaparelli used a large telescope to view Mars during its close encounter with Earth - called perihelic opposition (which means the orbit of Mars was at its closest with the orbit of Earth). A map was drawn by Schiaparelli and he described some of the features on Mars as canali. In Italian, canali means "channels" - a natural occurring feature. This however was translated into canals in English which means the artificial features used to channel water. The image below shows the map created by Schiaparelli.

The presence of these "canals" indicated intelligent life as these "canals" were used to channel the water from the poles to the highland regions.

One of the world famous Astronomers, Percival Lowell, became a strong proponent of the canal theory until his death. Continual observations led by Lowell resulted in more detailed maps to be generated:

Of course the image from the Mariner probe shows a different appearance:

No canals are present. Instead, we see what we often see with many things - including constellations. An example:
 
The Mars face from the Viking I orbiter (1976) sparked some "conspiracy theories" as the NASA's knowledge of aliens. But when the Mars Global Surveyor images the same area in 2001, we see only tricks of light and shadow.

Or is it...

I guess the planet is happy we are paying so much attention to it!

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