ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • Astronomy & Space Exploration

Why People Believed There Was Intelligent Life on Mars

Updated on March 4, 2015

In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported seeing a network of canali on the surface of Mars. He thought the canali were depressions in the soil that extended for hundreds or thousands of miles. Schiaparelli never specified whether he thought they were natural or not. When his report was translated into English, canali meaning channels was mistranslated as canals, which are man-made. One American astronomer Percival Lowell was fascinated by the Martian lines and devoted much of his life to theorizing about them.

Percival Lowell and the Canals of Mars

The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona welcomes about 80,000 visitors a year. The observatory was built by Percival Lowell on a 7,200 foot (2,195 meter) mountain peak he called Mars Hill. In 1894, he built a 24-inch refracting telescope. Thirty six years later another American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered what is now the dwarf planet Pluto at the observatory.

Lowell, who came from a wealthy Boston family, spent his time studying the vast network of canals on Mars and writing the books Mars (1895), Mars and Its Canals (1906), and Mars As the Abode of Life (1908). He believed Mars was once covered with vegetation but had become desert. Intelligent beings living on Mars built the system of canals in an attempt to save their planet by moving water from the ice caps in the polar regions to other areas.

Most other astronomers weren't able to see the canals. In 1907, Alfred Russel Wallace refuted Lowell's claims in a book called Is Mars Habitable? If the name sounds familiar, it's because it was Wallace who discovered evolution by natural selection around the same time as Charles Darwin. In the book, Wallace quotes astronomy historian Agnes Clerke who called the irrigation system as imagined by Lowell "hopelessly unworkable." There simply wasn't enough melting snow and ice. He also disputed Lowell's claim that Mars had a climate similar to that of the south of England despite being much further than the sun.

The NASA Mariner missions to Mars in the 1960s firmly put an end to speculation about the existence of canals on Mars. However, Lowell may have been a reason invasions and visitations from Mars became so common in popular culture.

Percival Lowell's drawings of the network of canals on Mars
Percival Lowell's drawings of the network of canals on Mars

War of the Worlds

When aliens invaded Earth on October 30, 1938 they were from Mars. The series of news bulletins announcing the invasion was a drama by Orson Welles. Some people turning their radio dials missed the announcement that it was a drama and thought a real martian invasion was occurring. Despite claims of a mass panic, an article in Slate The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic insists:

The supposed panic was so tiny as to be practically immeasurable on the night of the broadcast.

Perhaps by 1938, most people had accepted that our neighboring planet was devoid of intelligent life. The Orson Welles radio play was based on the 1897 book War of the World's by H.G. Wells. The book has two parts The Coming of the Martians and The Earth under the Martians. The narrator sees the Martians destroying southern England using heat-rays and chemical weapons from cylindrical spaceships.

The Martian technology that wreaked havoc on Earth in War of the Worlds
The Martian technology that wreaked havoc on Earth in War of the Worlds
Uncle Martin looked nothing like a little green man
Uncle Martin looked nothing like a little green man

My Favorite Martian

A more innocuous Martian encounter was depicted in the 1963 show My Favorite Martian. By this point, it was known Mars was a barren planet. The show starred Ray Walston (the Martian) and Bill Bixby. The human-looking Martian's spaceship crash landed near Los Angeles. The crash was seen by a newspaper reporter who agrees to hide the alien while he attempts to return home. He pretends the martian is his Uncle Martin. Uncle Martin has two retractable antennae on his head. He can read minds, levitate objects and become invisible. The show ended in 1966.

Perhaps a meteorite from Mars brought life to Earth
Perhaps a meteorite from Mars brought life to Earth

Maybe We Are Martians

Some scientists think the ingredients for life on Earth may have come from Mars. According to this idea, Earth once had too much water for life to take hold and our planet was frequently hit by destructive asteroids. According to the Discovery News article Did Life on Earth Come From Mars?:

Without at least occasional dry land, the chemistry needed to get life started doesn't work very well because the molecules to support genetics, such as RNA, are chemically unstable in many ways, particularly in water.

The seeds of life could have come from Martian rocks that fall to Earth. Steven Benner, a chemist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution claimed:

The evidence seems to be building that we are actually all Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock.

According to Benner, Mars was once a more hospitable environment for the beginning of life than Earth. Other scientists think life could have found a way to form in the hostile conditions on Earth. The debate is ongoing.

Orson Welles War of the Worlds Broadcast


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: ""

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)