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(Social) Maps of Mars October 15, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in history, inventions, science, science fiction, sense of wonder.

I missed Bubonicon 43 and what, by accounts, was a most excellent presentation by Dr Maria Lane, author of The Geographies of Mars: Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet.

Geographies of Mars: K. Maria D. Lane

She is a geographer (specializing in water rights) but wrote this book to analyze more the progression of social imagining of Mars. And she did a reprise of the talk since so many others missed it.

Schiaprelli it turns out was color blind, so the blue areas on his maps of Mars didn’t mean a lot. Certainly not that he thought there was so much ocean there. The progression of opinion was cemented by Percival Lowell and his elaborate description of how the canals changed over the seasons, water having, simply *having* to flow from the poles to the agricultural areas. Most intriguing was how Lane tied in British imperialism with the notion that the Martians had to be superior beings. Their world was dying, so they had accelerated intellect to fight the “desertism.”

And still more intriguing was how Lowell bypassed the peer reviewed journals and went straight to venues like The Atlantic and Cosmopolitan (not the same as today’s. The idea of those Martians working so diligently to save themselves from drought caught the imagination, both in Britain and the US. But the different interpretations were noteworthy. The Brits saw it as vindication for imperialism and the US for individual exceptionalism. One thing that entered my pea brain was that HG Wells, anti-imperialist, saw the War of the Worlds as an allegory of how the British Empire died from within.

All of Lowell’s maps of the canals were composites, no one ever seeing more than 3 lines at a time. By 1909 photographs and 40″ telescopes showed the lines were optical illusions or “seeing” problems.

Also in the news is the Mars endurance test is about to end, purporting to show cosmonauts could make the trip to mars.

I leave you with today’s Bizarro



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