There are canals on Mars after all…

4 January 2010

Monday


Mars is no longer the receptacle of our dreams as it once was. Science has caught up with falsifiable dreams and has falsified them. But science also sometimes surprises us. By now we all know how in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century it was believed that Mars was the home of a dying race that had to build canals to distribute water from the polar ice caps. A translation error contributed to this misapprehension by rendering observations of apparent lines as “canals” (Schiaparelli’s canali).

As it turns out, there are canals on Mars after all. Not canals built by an advanced but decaying civilization, but naturally formed canals — now quite dry, of course — from when, billions of years ago, Mars had liquid water running on its surface. The above photograph released by NASA, and appearing with a BBC story on the same, shows a slender channel between the relatively shallow lake bed in the upper left and the apparently deeper lake bed in the bottom center. While formed by the natural processes of erosion from moving water, it is a canal of sorts on the surface of Mars.

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