Biographies

Percival Lowell and the Mars channels

Percival Lowell and the Mars channels

He was a simple "American astronomy fan" who made significant observations of the planets.

Percival Lowell (1855-1916) is known for advocating the existence of channels on the surface of Mars and turning these supposed channels into the evident proof that there was intelligent life on the planet.

He was born in Boston, Massachusetts to a rich family and studied mathematics at Harvard University. He traveled to Japan and Korea from 1877 to 1893 and subsequently wrote books about East Asia. In 1894 he founded and was director of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is still operating today.

He was aware of studies conducted in Italy by astronomer Giovani Schiaparelli (1835-1910) on the geography of Mars, studies that had led to the determination of the existence of a network of lines with a length of thousands of kilometers, the so-called channels .

Lowell interpreted such structures as excavations built by the inhabitants of that planet to transport water from polar areas to the arid lands of Ecuador. These deductions were considered quite fantastic by most scientists of the time.

From 1902 until his death he was a non-resident professor of astronomy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lowell also devoted himself to analyzing the movement of the two known extreme planets: Uranus and Neptune. From the irregularity of its orbits, he deduced that there must be a ninth planet there. He actively sought it from his observatory, but without result.

Fourteen years after Lowell's death, the planet was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh, at the same observatory that Lowell had founded and directed. However, its mass is so small that it could not cause the alleged disturbances observed by Percival Lowell. Therefore, today it is considered that Pluto's discovery should be attributed more to chance than to a correct scientific forecast.

Among his works are Mars and Its Canals (Mars and its channels, 1906) and The Genesis of the Planets (Genesis of the planets, 1916).

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