No one doubts the reality of the mysterious space ship seen over Alabama. But did it come form Mars?
by L. Taylor Hansen
Of what origin is this “Mystery Ship?” Russian? That would be crediting them with an enormous engineering advantage over us. But if not, who then? Only two classes of persons would be willing to make the next guess-Mars. Those two classes might include astronomers (never for publication of course, only off the record), and science-fiction fans.
On the night that this story appeared in the newspapers, I looked up the authority on Mars-Lowell.
Percival Lowell established Lowell’s Observatory in the highlands of Arizona during those years at the turn of the century when the western skies were still comparatively free of the soot and grime which churns them up today and which continues to pile an ever-mounting curtain of obscuring matter between our telescopes and the objects which they seek. Every astronomer worthy of the name admits that Lowell had an advantage over them, even with his smaller telescope. In the rarest of fleeting seconds, or split seconds, when the obscuring film would clear, they too have seemed to catch a glimpse of the fine-pencilled lines which astronomer Percival Lowell brazenly called “canals”.
To Lowell, these waterways which conducted the melting water from the polar caps down to and across the equator so that the deserts could flush green in the Martian springtime, could not be the work of chance. If they had been the work of chance, he argued, they would no climb from the swamps about the edge of the polar caps to the highlands of the deserts (comparative highlands since there are no mountains on Mars), nor would they cross the equator into the opposite hemisphere.
As he continued to view Mars, a still further conviction came to him. One can see it grow in his published works. These canals were turned off and on. One faded away and another came into view. He began to compute the time. One set was closed off for six Martian years (or twelve of our years) and another set turned on to service the same area.
But what did Lowell have to say about flying things-and lights? After explaining that upon the moon the tops of its sharp peaks catch and hold the sunlight before the rest of the mountain is lighted, so that the peak seems to be a detached light on the rim for a time, Lowell continues on page 100 of Mars And Its Canals:
“Common upon the face of the Moon, excrescences of the terminator 9rim) are rare on Mars. The first ever seen was detected by a visitor at the Lick Observatory in 1888. Since then they have repeatedly been noticed both at Lick and elsewhere. But although observers are now on the watch for them, they are not very frequently chronicled because not of everyday occurrence. Much depends upon the opposition; some approaches of the planet proving more prolific of them than others.”
Lowell continues to describe one such patch of light which could safely be relegated to the probability that it was a large dust storm, but his second description is more interesting.
“At the same time, Baltia, a region to the north of it and synchronously visible close upon the terminator, showed whitish. The seeing was good enough to disclose the Phison and Euphrates double (canal), the power of magnification of 310 and the aperture of the 24-inch objective.
“From the time it was first seen, the detached patch of light crept in toward the disk, the illuminated body of the planet. Four minutes after I first saw it, the dark space separating it from the nearest point of the terminator had sensibly lessened. So it continued, with some fluctuations intrinsic to the atmospheric difficulties of observations generally and to the smallness of the object itself, to become gradually less and less salient. It lasted for forty minutes from the moment it had first appeared to Mr. Silpher (astronomer at Flagstaff), and then passed from sight to leave the edge of the planet smooth and commonplace again.”
The following day Lowell tells us that the entire staff eagerly watched to see if they could again see the projection. They did not see it was where expected, but a much smaller one was to be found farther north. It was so small in fact that only careful watching made it out or it would have been entirely missed. He then concludes by voicing one’s own thoughts: Could these have been two different objects?
Lowell is inclined to agree with W.H. Pickering, who considered these detached bits of moving light to be clouds. Undoubtedly some of them are. This view was strongly supported by A.E. Douglass in a discussion of a large number of them which were observed in 1894 at Flagstaff. The mountain theory was shown to be untenable because of their movement.
Armed with these facts I spent the next day actually looking up the men whose business it is to know Mars. I found them very cagey.
Yes, they had thought of Mars in connection with the Mystery Ship, but…but…
It was a possible explanation of course, but…but…
They were very shy about the use of their names. Off the record, well, that was another matter.
“If we could go along with Lowell and accept the fact that superior beings inhabited our neighboring planet, running thousands of miles of canal irrigation, they would naturally be disturbed by the atomic clouds whirled up from the Pacific Ocean in these past few months, which would undoubtedly show as great projections upon our terminator. If we could go along with Lowell, then these creatures of great engineering skill might decide that a cruise to Earth was in order to find out the reason for such projections. Perhaps they have been here thousands of times before and know all about us, even as we might watch a planet with an ant-civilization…with curiosity, but with no desire to communicate since no advantage could come to the more advanced group by such a communication.”
These men of science even began to warm up to the subject and one suspected that some science-fiction talent might be hidden here.
“Perhaps all possible worlds are existing somewhere,” one remarked. “Why not in a universe such as ours with its swarm of over a hundred million suns? Are we to believe the colossal egocentric proposal that we are the only fly-speck harboring life?”
“Or,” proposed another, “how about the possible four hundred million other island-universes which we now think comprise our visible horizon?”
“For a moment, gentlemen,” I protested, “let us return to Mars. If such beings exist, why have they not tried to colonize Earth?”
I was pooh-poohed down immediately.
“What would make Earth desirable to a Martian? In the first place, do not forget the difference in surface pressure. Would you want to live your life in a suit of armor such as a Martian would have to wear to protect him from the intense pressure of our atmosphere compared to that in which he had evolved? You might want to go to the sea bottom to see what is down there, but ask any diver how long he wants to stay.”
As I was about to return to my typewriter from the observatory in order to type this article, I thought of Dr. Robert N. Webgster who once worked with the great telescope n Mt. Wilson, but who since has gone into another business and would probably not care if I used his name. I told a thoughtful audience of observatory scientists how Webster, through one entire night had watched a tiny speck circle most of the Martian terminator, and on another occasion saw one cross the Mare Erythraeum and continue down the lighter portion of the planet to the south. Webster had mentioned the fact that it was so small that he could not look right at it. He had to look away and then find it again later, which was not too hard, once he had discovered its direction of flight.
Then as I turned to go, it was the man who specializes on the study of the sun who gave me my parting thought.
“Has it occurred to you that if we could go along with Lowell,and grant a superior order of intelligence to the inhabitants of Mars, they would probably be rather worried by the manner in which our sun is acting lately? It is having a sort of fever-a rash of sports greater than have ever been observed before. Perhaps they have connected the atomic bomb bursts with these magnetic or atomic explosions upon the sun. The sun seems to react with a giant spot the day after a bomb is burst in the Pacific. After all, it is their sun too.”
As I rode down the mountain, shielding the brilliance of our daystar from my eyes, his last words seemed to re-echo over and over in my mind…
“After all, it is their sun too…”