AAS 203rd Meeting, January 2004
Session 35 HAD III
Division Oral, Monday, January 5, 2004, 2:00-3:30pm, Regency V

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[35.04] Lowell’s Martian ``Canals’’ in the Light of Modern CCD Imaging

C. M. Gaskell (Univ. Nebraska), T. A. Dobbins (ALPO)

The question of the existence of the so-called ``canals’’ on Mars was perhaps the dominant issue in late 19th and early 20th century planetary studies. Spacecraft imaging has confirmed that the thin straight lines depicted by Schiaparelli, Lowell, and others are not real. However, the question of how observers like Lowell could have been mislead has not been fully answered. I argue that the best contemporary amateur CCD imaging provides important information because such images are taken with similar apertures to what Lowell used, and the CCD images resolution is identical to the resolution that could be achieved visually during the very best fleeting moments of perfect seeing. Inspection of CCD images taken during the perihelic Martian opposition of 2003 reveals many narrow ``canals’’. The general impression is in some cases strikingly similar to what Lowell reported. To attempt to evaluate the subjective element in drawing canals, I repeated the classic experiment of Walter Maunder by having volunteers draw where they thought they saw canals in CCD images. These images were adjusted on a computer screen to give a resolution and magnification that roughly matched Lowell’s view. Volunteers differed in how many canals they drew, but some of the main features they agreed on match up with ``canals’’ reported by Lowell. It is concluded that Lowell’s ``canals’’ have more of a basis in reality that is commonly recognized.

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The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: mgaskell1@unl.edu

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 35 #5
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.