Mars

More

Suggestive of irrigation as the strange network of lines that covers the surface of Mars appears to be, the suggestion takes on more definite shape yet with the last addition to our knowledge of the planets surface detail, the recognition of a singularly correlated system of spots.

The canals, as we have seen, show a remarkable attachment to their kind. Not content with such casual meetings as chance would afford them in the course of their long careers, they make a point of rendezvousing as often and in as great numbers as possible. Indeed, the ingenuity with which they manage to combine unswerving rectitude with meetings by the way grows more and more marvelous, the more one studies it. The meeting-places, or junctions, evidently possess an attraction for the canals. The crossings, in fact, seem to be the end and aim of the whole system; the canals, but means to that end. So much is at once inferable from the great intrinsic improbability that such crossings can be due to chance.

The inference receives, apparently, striking verification from a something which turns out to exist at these junctions. This something shows itself as a round or ovate spot. To such spot, planted there in the midst of the desert, do the neighboring canals converge.

Dotted all over the reddish ochre ground of the great desert stretches of the planet, the so-called continents of Mars, are an innumerable number of dark circular or ovate spots. They appear, furthermore, always in intimate association with the canals. They constitute so many hubs to which the canals make spokes. These spots, together with the canals that lead to them, are the only markings to be seen anywhere on the continental regions. Otherwise the great reddish-ochre areas are absolutely bare; of that pale fire-opal hue which marks our own deserts seen from far.

That these two things, straight lines and roundish spots, should, with our present telescopic means, be the sole markings to appear on the vast desert regions of the planet is suggestive in itself.

Another significant fact as to the character of either marking is the manifest association of the two. In spite of the great number of the spots, not one of them stands isolate. There is not a single instance of a spot that is not connected by a canal to the rest of the dark areas. This remarkable inability to stand alone shows that the spots and the canals are not unrelated phenomena, for were there no tie between them they must occasionally exist apart.

Nor is this all. There is, apparently, no spot that is not joined to the rest of the system, not only by a canal, but by more than one; for though some spots, such as the Fountain of Youth, have appeared at first to be provided with but a single canal connection, later observation has revealed concurrence in the case. The spots are, therefore, not only part and parcel of the canal system, but terminal phenomena of the same.

They are, generally speaking, more difficult features to see than the canals. In consequence, they have been among the most recent details to be made out upon the planets surface. It was not until 1892, at Arequipa, that they were seen in anything like their real numbers. Of them, indeed, are the forty lakes found by Professor W. H. Pickering. This year, at Flagstaff, still others have been discovered, to detection of their character, as I think.

In the first place, as I have said, there appears to be no spot that has not two or more canals running to it; in the second place, I find, reversely, that apparently no canal junction is without its spot. Such association is a most telltale circumstance. I believe the rule to have no exception. The more prominent junctions all show spots; and with regard to the less conspicuous ones, it is to be remembered that, as the canals are more easy to make out than the spots, the relative invisibility of the latter is to be expected. From which it would seem that the spots are fundamental features of the junctions, and that for a junction to be spotless is, from its very nature, an impossibility.

Next to their regularity of position is to be remarked their regularity of form. Their typical shape seems to be circular; for the better the atmosphere, the rounder they look. Under poor seeing they show as irregular patches smooching the disc, much as the canals themselves show as streaks; the spots differing from the canals in being thicker and not so long. As the seeing improves, the patches differentiate themselves into round dots and connecting lines. Such is the shape of the spots associated with single canals; that is, canals not double. In the case of the double canals, the spots look like rectangles with the corners rounded off. One of the most striking of all of them is the Trivium Charontis, which is nearly square.

Now it will be noticed that these shapes are as unnatural as they are definite, and that they all agree in one peculiarity: they are all convex, not concave, to the entering canals. They are not, therefore, mere enlargements of the canals, due to natural causes; for were the spots enlargements of the canals at their crossing points they should be more or less star shaped, or concave to the canals, whereas they are round, or roundish rectangles, that is, convex to the same. Such convexity negatives, at the outset, their being purely natural outgrowths of the canals.

The majority of the spots are from 120 to 150 miles in diameter; thus presenting a certain uniformity in size as well as in shape. There are some smaller ones, not more than 75 miles across, or less.

To the spot category belong all the markings other than canals to be seen anywhere on the continental deserts of the planet, from the great Lake of the Sun, which is 540 miles long by 300 miles broad, to the tiny Fountain of Youth, which is barely distinguishable as a dot. That all are fundamentally of a kind is hinted at by their shape and emphasized by their character, a point to which we shall come in a moment.

To this end, we will start with an account of where and how they begin to show; for, like the canals, they are not permanent markings, but temporary phenomena. It is in the region about the Solis Lacus that they appear first. The Solis Lacus, or Lake of the Sun, is perhaps the most striking marking on Mars. It is an oval spot in lat. 28~ S., with its greater diameter nearly perpendicular to the meridians, and encircled by an elliptical ring of reddish-ochre land, which in turn is bordered on the south by the blue-green regions of the south temperate zone. The whole configuration is such as to simulate a gigantic eye which uncannily turns round upon one as the planet slowly revolves. It is so conspicuous a feature of the disc that it has been recognized for a great many years. The resemblance to an eye is further borne out by a cordon of canals that surround it on the north. Upon this cordon, composed chiefly of the Araxes and the Agathodaemon, are beaded a number of spots, two of them, the Phoenix and the Tithonus lakes, being conspicuously prominent. Closer scrutiny reveals several more of the same sort, only smaller. These are all interconnected by a network of canals. Now just as it is in this region that the canals first show, so likewise is it here that the spots first make their appearance.

Although it was here that at this last opposition the spots were first seen, it was not here that their character and purpose became apparent. It was not until later in the season, when the Eumenides-Orcus began to give evidence of being yet more peculiarly beaded, that the true nature of the spots suggested itself.

The Eumenides-Orcus is a very long and important canal, connecting the Phoenix Lake with the Trivium Charontis. It is so long, 3540 miles from one end of it to the other, that although it starts in lat. 160 N., and ends in lat. 120 S., it belts the disc not many degrees inclined to the equator. For a great distance it runs parallel to the northern coast of the Sea of the Sirens. From this coast several canals strike down to it, some stopping at it, others continuing on down the disc. Especially is the western end of the sea, called the Gulf of the Titans, a point of departure for canals; no less than six of them, and doubtless more, leaving the gulf in variously radiating directions. At the place where these canals severally cross the Eumenides-Orcus, I began in November to see spots. I also saw others along the Pyriphlegethon, an important canal leading in a more northerly direction from the Phoenix Lake; along the Gigas, a great canal running from the Gulf of the Titans all the way to the Lake of the Moon; and along other canals in the same region. I then noticed that the spots to the north of the Solis Lacus region had darkened, since August, relatively to the more southern ones. In short, I became aware both of a great increase in the number of spots, and of an increase in tint in the spots previously seen.

It was apparent that the spots were part and parcel of the canal system, and that in the matter of varying visibility they took after the canals, chronologically, very closely after them; for a comparison of the two leads me to believe that the spots make their appearance subsequent, although but little subsequent, to the canals which conduct to them.

Furthermore, the spots, like the canals, grow in conspicuousness with time. Now when we consider that nothing, practically, has changed between us and them in the interval; that there has been no symptom of cloud or other obscuration, before or after, over the place where they eventually appear, we are led to the conclusion that, like the canals, they grow.

Indeed, in the history of their development the two features seem quite similar. Both grow, and both follow the same order and method in their growth. Both are affected by one progressive change that sweeps over the face of the planet from the pole to the equator, and then from the equator toward the other pole. In the case of the Southern hemisphere, it is, as we have just seen, the most southern spots, like the most southern canals, that appear first after the melting of the polar snows. Then gradually others begin to show farther and farther north. The quickening of the spots, like the quickening of the canals, is a seasonal affair. But there is more in it than this. It takes place in a manner to imply that something more immediate than the change in the seasons is concerned in it; immediate not in time, but in relation to the result. A comparison of the behavior of three spots the Phoenix Lake, the spot at the junction of the Iris and the Gigas, at the upper extremity of Ceraunius, and a spot where the Steropes, a newly found canal, and the Nilus meet will serve to point out what this something is. The Phoenix Lake lies in lat. 0 170 S., the upper Ceraunius in lat. 12 N., and the spot on the Steropes in lat. 280 N. In August of last year, the first of these markings was very conspicuous, the second but moderately so, while the third was barely discernible. By November, the Phoenix Lake had become less salient, Ceraunius relatively more so, and the spot on the Steropes nearly as evident as Ceraunius had formerly been. In the Martian calendar, the August observation corresponded to our 20th of June, the November one to our 1st of August, of the southern hemisphere; or to our 20th of December and 1st of February, respectively, of the northern one. All three spots were practically within the equatorial regions. Now, on earth, no such marked progression in seasonal change occurs within the tropics. With us, it is to all intents and purposes equally green there the year through. On Mars it is not. Clearly, some more definite factor than the seasons enters into the matter upon our neighbor world.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Sad Desk Lunch: Is This How You Want to Die?

How to avoid working through lunch, and diseases related to social isolation.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In