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Is Mars Habitable?

Alfred Russel Wallace

Book Overview: 

Wallace wrote the short book Is Mars Habitable? to criticize the claims made by Percival Lowell that there were Martian canals built by intelligent beings. Wallace did months of research, consulted various experts, and produced his own scientific analysis of the Martian climate and atmospheric conditions. Among other things Wallace pointed out that spectroscopic analysis had shown no signs of water vapor in the Martian atmosphere, that Lowell’s analysis of Mars’ climate was seriously flawed and badly overestimated the surface temperature, and that low atmospheric pressure would make liquid water, let alone a planet girding irrigation system, impossible. (from Wikipedia)

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Martian winter corresponding to the end of February with us. About the end of March the cap begins to shrink in size (in the Northern Hemisphere), and this goes on so rapidly that early in the June of Mars it is reduced to its minimum. About the same time changes of colour take place in the adjacent darker portions of the surface, which become at first bluish, and later a decided blue-green; but by far the larger portion, including almost all the equatorial regions of the planet, remain always of a reddish-ochre tint.[4]

[Footnote 4: In 1890 at Mount Wilson, California, Mr. W.H. Pickering's photographs of Mars on April 9th showed the southern polar cap of moderate dimensions, but with a large dim adjacent area. Twenty-four hours later a corresponding plate showed this same area brilliantly white; the result apparently of a great Martian snowfall. In 1882 the same observer witnessed the steady disappearance of 1,600,000 square miles of the southern s. . . Read More

Community Reviews

A fascinating look at early thinking about astrobiology and the Martian canal debate from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Victorian language and sometimes lengthy discussions probably don't lend themselves to casual reading, though.

The entirety of this books was picking apart someone else theory almost line for line and proving it wrong. Where as I am in agreement its wrong as it is an OLD theory, both are infact. I feel the book could have better been used to promote the author's own theory to stand on its own without atta...more

A bit dry, but it really helped me grasp just how brilliant the early 1900's scientists were. And they did it all with slide rules and on paper.

Amazing what was observable and deducible with such primitve equipment.

Interesting mostly for its insight into the thoughts of the time. When this was written, they obviously had no idea about the role of meteors in the formation of craters and the fracturing of the surface of Mars. Also, for some reason they thought the surface of Mars was one giant plane with litt...more

Wallace was one of the first to dispute Lowell's theory of civilized Mars, and he puts down Lowell hard. Planetary science is no place for those with thin skins!

(lido em Chengdu, China)

The Book "Is Mars Habitable?" is a scientific critique of Percival Lowell's conjectures that intelligent life exists or existed on Mars and built the canals. Lowell was an amateur astronomer, whereas Wallace is a professional scientist and a little more rigorous in his application of science to M...more