To mark our 150th anniversary, we review Popular science stories (both hits and gaps) that helped define scientific progress, understanding and innovation – with an additional hint of contemporary context. Take a look Remarkable pages and see our full coverage of the anniversary here.
Perhaps best known for its colorful depiction of life on Mars Popular scienceThe function of May 1930, Do Beavers Rule Mars?, science writer Thomas Elway was no stranger to speculation. In addition to his prediction of a ruling class of Red Planet beavers, whose “eyes may be larger than those of the terrestrial beaver because the sunlight is not as strong” and whose bodies may be larger due to the lower Martian gravity ”, Elway also describes a type of cancer that can inhabit the moon (“The moon is made of ashes”, Popular Sciences, December 1929). These crustaceans wore hard outer shells to “prevent the loss of body fluids in airless space” and “eyes that could turn sunlight into food.”
When it came to fantasizing about life in space, Elway was not alone at the beginning of the last century. Advances in physics, telescopic technology and rocket science have sparked the imagination of not only science journalists. Hugo Gernsbeck launches the first American science fiction magazine, Amazing stories, in 1926, which includes tales and images of extraterrestrial life. Often blurring the lines between science fiction and science facts, the novice genre was known as science.
To be honest, not all of Alway’s predictions flirted so openly with fabrications. In a 1924 account of Popular Radio, “Fast transit by radio“He predicts that the same electromagnetic forces used to propagate radio waves will soon be harnessed to levitate trains. Elway Radio Express would pass through airtight tubes that could travel at 10,000 miles per hour, waving Midwest residents a few minutes to the door of a Broadway theater. Nearly a century later, on November 8, 2020, passengers traveled 680 miles per hour through an airtight tube in Virgin’s Hyperloop trial. Elon Musk is also chasing Radio Express. But even enormous wealth cannot turn science fiction into science. Go ask Elway.
Do Beavers Rule Mars? (Thomas Ellway, May 1930)
No trace of human intelligence has been found on the Red Planet, and it is thought that evolution, due to the lack of stress that helped the earth, may have stopped with an animal adapted to life on earth and water.
Mars is so similar to Earth that humans can live there. There is air, water, vegetation, a diurnal sequence of day and night temperatures not hotter and nights not much colder than those known on Earth. But because Mars has no mountain ranges and probably never had an ice age, it is considered very unlikely that it will be inhabited by human-like beings or those who possess what humans call intelligence. The evolution of life on Mars must have been different from that on Earth.
One of the best signs of intelligence on Mars, said Dr. Clyde Fisher of the American Museum of Natural History in New York recently, would be an indication of artificial light on the planet. Undoubtedly, the illuminated cities of Mars can be seen through the telescopes that are now in use. However, there is one condition that prevents satisfactory and convincing observation. When Mars is closest to Earth, the two planets are on the same side of the Sun. Then only the sunlit side of the liars is visible. To see any part of the night side of Mars, an observation must be made as it rotates in its orbit toward the far side of the Sun so that a piece of both dark and illuminated can be seen. country. When even part of the night side is visible, Mars is relatively far away and difficult to see. Martians, if there are any, would not have the same difficulty in observing the dark side of the Earth, because when the two planets are closest to each other, the Earth shows Mars the dark side.
These effects of the orbits of the two planets could make it difficult for the Earth to detect the dim light of illuminated Martian villages, if any. Cities as bright as New York or Paris, on the other hand, would undoubtedly be visible. With the new 200-inch telescope planned to be erected in California, it will certainly be possible, Dr. Fisher predicts, to distinguish such brightly lit cities if there are such Martian centers of civilization. If such artificial lights are never seen, he added, it could lead to proving that Mars does not have intelligent life. However, other scholars say that Martian civilization may correspond to that of an earlier one. the era before artificial light on Earth. In any case, astronomers agree that there is practical certainty that Mars has species under human intelligence.
Any conclusion about the life forms of Mars or other planets, according to leading astronomers, must begin, if it should be reasonable at all, with the idea of the eminent Swedish scientist, Dr. Svante Arenius, for a kind of life – a germ penetrating throughout the solar system. There is no reasonable way to even guess the shape of this life germ. It may have drifted like small living spores from planet to planet, spinning in space under the pressure of light.
Whatever its form, the germ of life, biologists suggest, it probably evolved on Mars, just like on Earth, in oceans that have evaporated over the centuries. It is assumed that the early conditions on the two planets were very similar.
The theory that Martian life evolved along lines similar to those followed by the evolution of life on Earth is supported by at least one clear fact. Careful spectroscopic studies at the ML Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, California, and elsewhere have revealed that oxygen gas exists in the Martian atmosphere. The presence of oxygen gas is very important, because the only known way in which any planet can be supplied with this gas is through the vital activities of plants.
Following the example of the great expert on Martian astronomy, the late Professor Percival Lowell, astronomers have long recognized dark spots on Mars that are thought to be covered with vegetation. The oxygen that spectroscopes show in Martian air is taken as another proof that this vegetation exists.
Since plant activity is the only known process of space chemistry that can produce free oxygen on the surface of a cooled planet, the presence of oxygen in the dilute air of Mars indicates that vegetation there must have produced oxygen from water and sunlight. as he did on earth. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of Martian theorizing of the definite fact that Mars has oxygen and therefore vegetation.
In a certain way along the path of evolution, Martian life shows evidence that it has undergone a similar development on Earth. What happened next is a matter of deduction. The known facts about Mars are the result of years of astronomical observations and studies. Dark and light markings on its surface can be seen through a large telescope. The lighter ones are reddish or yellowish and are usually interpreted as deserts. Darker areas are greenish or bluish in color and are widely attributed to vegetation. Mars has two white polar caps. Recent measurements of Martian temperatures by Dr. WW Coblentz and Dr. CO Lampland at the Flagstaff Observatory show that they are composed of snow and ice.
In the Martian autumn, these hats increase and become whiter. In the spring on the planet, they shrink and often look surrounded by wide rings of bluish or blackish material, which can be leaves of water or vegetation. Even more significant are the spring changes in the area of presumed vegetation on the planet. Many of them darken in color. Others expand or lengthen. New dark areas often appear where none have been visible during the Martian winter. Now few astronomers doubt that these dark areas represent some kind of vegetation.
So far, everything is strikingly parallel to the evolution of the Earth. It will probably be found that he went even further in parallel and that the animal life of the two planets was similar – at least for part of evolutionary history. But in all the years of serious and competent research, no clear sign of human life on Mars has been found. Professor Lowell’s famous Martian “canals”, long considered a possible sign of the intelligent direction of water, are now thought to be wide, shallow river valleys.
This lack of human-like life is exactly what the biologist would expect. It is believed that man and the active mind of man are a product of the Great Ice Age, because that time of stress and competition on Earth is what is supposed to have turned the anthropoid ancestors of mankind into humans. The period of ice and cold over large areas of the earth is caused, at least in part, but the rise of continents and mountain ranges. There are no mountain ranges on Mars, and there has probably never been an ice age.
On these hypotheses, science bases its assumption that there is no human mind on Mars and animal life on the planet is still in the age of instincts. What can be expected on Mars is fish life, very similar to that on Earth, the emergence of this fish life on land and the evolution of these Martian land fish to reptile-like creatures. Finally, there will be animals resembling today’s rodents such as rats, squirrels and beavers.
The main reason to expect this final change of Martian reptiles into primitive mammals lies in the fact that on Earth this evolution seems to have been forced by changing times. And Mars now has seasonal changes like those on Earth.
Therefore, pure biological reasoning makes it possible that the evolution of warm-blooded animals took place on Mars, as here. There seems to be no reason to believe that Martian life has gone beyond that. Mars is a relatively constant planet. Biologists suggest that the rise and fall of mountains, the rise and fall of volcanic activity, and the tides of climate have forced life on earth on its upward trajectory. Martian life in recent times seems to be devoid of these natural incentives for better things.
There is now a creature on Earth whose development would be matched by supposed Martian conditions. This animal is the beaver. It lives either on land or on water. There is a leather coat to protect it from 100 degrees below zero on Martian night.
Martian beavers, of course, would not be exactly like those on Earth. They are probably hairy and water-loving. Their eyes may be larger than those of the earth beaver because the sunlight is less intense and their bodies may be larger due to lower Martian gravity. Competent digging tools will certainly be provided on their nails. The breasts of these Martian beavers would be larger and their breathing far more active, as there is less oxygen in the air of Mars.
Such Martian beavers are nothing more than pure speculation, but the idea is based on the known fact that there is a lot of water on Mars; that vegetation almost certainly exists there; that Mars has no mountains and hardly had an ice age; and that the evidence for Martian life is not accompanied by signs of intelligence.
Herds of beaver creatures are at least a more sensible idea than the well-known fictional Martians who dig artificial waterways with huge machines, or the even more fantastic idea of octopus-like Martians intelligent enough to plan to conquer Earth. .
Part of the text has been edited to meet modern standards and style.