The Canals of Mars – American History, Science History

Is the surface of Mars criss-crossed by lines so long and straight they can only be constructions of an advanced alien civilization? Many astronomers in the late 19th and early 20th century thought so. Join us in this jaunt into the frailty of human perception.

Be sure to support the show at to get your portrait drawn!

Music and graphic design by Rachel Westhoff. Maps, pics, references and more at

Become our patron on Patreon at

Time/place: United States, 1894-1906 CE

Dead Idea: The Canals of Mars

Co-hosts: Nick and Anna

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Color Plate from Lowell, 1906 03

Color Plate III from Lowell’s 1906 Mars and Its Canals

Mars Plate VII

Plate VII from Lowell’s 1895 Mars

arl Otto Lampland, Twenty-eight views of Mars, 1907

First photographs of Mars, 1905 – Lowell claims to see up to 38 canals and one double canal in these photographs. Can you?

Viking 1 Composite Image of Mars, mission June 1976

Modern Enhanced Photograph of Mars

Illustrations from Evans and Maunder’s Greenwich schoolboys experiment

Main Sources

Evans, J. E., and Maunder, E. W. (1903). “Experiments as to the Actuality of the ‘Canals’ Observed on Mars.” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 43: 488-499.

Hyde, D., Veiller, A., and Horner, H. (1952). Red Planet Mars [Motion Picture]. USA: Mellaby Pictures. Retrieved Aug 29, 2018, from:

Lowell, P. (1895). Mars. New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Co.

Lowell, P. (1906). Mars and Its Canals. Norwood, MA: Norwood Press.

Lowell, P. (1908). Mars as the Abode of Life. New York: MacMillan.

McGinty, M. J. (2016). Canals on Mars: Lowell Revisited. Amazon Digital Services LLC (self-published).

Sagan, C., and Fox, P. (1975, August). “The Canals of Mars: An Assessment After Mariner 9.” Icarus 25(4): 602-612.

Wallace, A. R. (1907). Is Mars Habitable?: A Critical Examination of Professor Lowell’s Book “Mars and Its Canals”, With an Alternative Explanation. London: MacMillan.

Leave a Reply