Jump to: Intro, How it Begins, Percival Lowell!, Other Beliefs, Microbes
Since ancient times, Mars has fascinated mankind. For a long time, many believed Mars was inhabited by extraterrestrials. We even thought up of a name to call the residents of Mars- Martians. Scientists studied the planet hard and saw things that they thought verified life on Mars- channels, changing seasons, etc etc. The general public were eager to believe the scientists. Books and movies started to depict life on Mars. As early as the early 1900s, books were already written about Martians visiting Earth. In 1938, Orson Welles broadcasted a radio drama based on War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Unfortunately, enough people believed in the tale of the invading Martians to cause a near panic.
HOW IT BEGINS:
In 1877, Asaph Hall discovers the two moons of Mars. It was during this time that Mars and Earth were the closest to each other than they had ever been. Giovanni Schiaparelli, an Italian astronomer, takes this opportunity to study Mars in detail. He notices Mars surface has "canalis" crisscrossing all over. In 1878, Schiaparelli publishes his studies. He sketches the "canalis," maps their locations, and identifies 113 of them. "Canali," meaning channels, gets translated incorrectly into canals. This leads the general public into thinking intelligent beings on Mars are building waterways to irrigate crops or to transport water. Scientists also start to believe. In 1886, scientists from the United States, Great Britain, and France study Mars together. An American notices- "lakes"- dark areas located at the ends of the canals.
Percival Lowell, an American astronomer later known for his "Planet X," becomes obsessed over life on Mars. (You will soon find out that Lowell was an obsessive man... now, that's not a bad thing. In fact, his persistance in searching for "Planet X" actually leads to the discover of Pluto. But that's later...) Lowell becomes so obsessed that he builds an observatory, the (drum roll please....) Lowell Observatory, in Flagstaff, Arizona. Using telescopes, Lowell identifies at least 500 canals. Lowell shares his discoveries with the public, publishing three books. In his books, he talks about how the planet Mars is drying out and dying. The Martians built these canals because their civilization was threatened by a shortage of water. Many people believe Lowell. The general public is swept into Martian mania. Many scientists agree with him.
Some scientists become skeptical. They notice that there is no consistency in the maps of the canals. Every map looks different. The canals are shorter, longer, wider, thinner, located there, located here, etc. Some begin to believe that the canals are actually shadow lines. Others believe the canals are ridges. Some think they are sand dunes being blown around. Martian mania continued until the 1960s when space probes were sent to Mars. They verified there were no Martians.
In 1984, scientists discovered a meteorite in Antarctica. They named it ALH84001 (what a name!). After studying it, they realized it actually came from the surface of Mars. While it was not the first meteorite discovered from Mars, it was the oldest one we have found. Scientists hoped that it would provide information on how Mars was many years ago. Upon close inspection, scientists were delighted to found tiny worm-like structures. They believed these could be fossils of microscopic creatures they used to roam the surface of Mars. However, this new and important discovery, was not enough to convince everyone there could have been intelligent life on Mars.
In case you were wondering... every year, around two tons of Martian "stuff" rain on Earth. Fortunately (or unfortunately for scientists), most of it burns up on its way in. However, sometimes a meteorite is able to make its way through. ALH84001 was one of these lucky few. Scientists believe that around 3.6 billion years ago, an asteroid hit Mars and caused rocks on the surface to get blown off. These rocks became meteorites that got knocked out into space and began to orbit the sun. Eventually, one of these meteorites got knocked out of orbit and began falling towards Earth. Some 13,000 years ago, it hits Earth.