Mars observation dates back many thousands of year. Some of our earliest records come from people trying to calculate Mars’ positions it rotated around (what we now know is) the Sun. Helenistic, Greek, Indian and Chinese cultures were some of the first to really get a grasp on the planet’s size, distance, motions and shape of orbit. In 1610 Galileo first saw Mars through his telescope, and from there we’ve been on a non stop discovery train that brings us closer and closer to understanding this planet and how we will one set foot on it, for isn’t that the ultimate goal?
Dark spots, polar ice caps, canals and what looked like dust, everywhere. These observations were the cornerstones of our interest in this planet and have also convinced a lot of people, a hundred or so years ago, that there is or was definitely life on Mars. In 1877 Giovanni Schiaparelli, using a, for the time, high resolution telescope, saw what he believed to be long and straight lines on Mars. In Italian, he called these “canlis”, which means grooves, but got mistranslated to mean canals, connoting a population living and creating these features. The rumors of life on mars began to spread and even other astronomers were decidedly convinced that they too saw these canals.
Books got written and everyone for a while was convinced that we shared this solar system with other living, breathing, intelligent life forms. These “canals” turned out to be nothing more than an optical illusion created with the telescopes, but rest assured that it fueled the fire for knowledge and discovery that has helped fund and space programs around the world.
One of the first Maps of mars from Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli with the mistaken “canals”: