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Top 5 Facts: Discovery of Mars

1,500 BC

Egyptians refer to Mars as ‘Horus of the Hawk’, a god with the head of a hawk. They note its retrograde motion, when it moves backwards in its orbit relative to Earth

350 BC

Aristotle first proposes that Mars orbits at a further distance than the moon when he notes that the moon passes in front of Mars in his observations.


Galileo Galilei uses a telescope to become the first person to directly observe Mars, but is later vilified by the Vatican for asserting that the planets orbit the Sun and not earth.


Astronomer Giovanni Cassini calculates the length of a Martian day, notes the polar ice caps and even calculates its distance from Earth in his telescopic observations.


Astronomers Wilhelm Beer and Johann Heinrich Mädler study Mars through a 3.75-inch telescope and produce the first sketched Map of its surface.

  • Nigel Watson

    Mars was seriously considered as the possible home of intelligent beings. This idea was given more credence by the charts made by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli during the oppositions of Mars in 1877, 1879 and 1881. He termed long dark lines he saw on the surface of Mars canali, meaning channels, but when translated into English they were erroneously called canals. He abandoned his observations in 1890 due to failing eyesight, but other astronomers confirmed the existence of the Martian markings.

    After studying occult phenomena in Japan, Percival Lowell returned to the USA in 1893 to set up an observatory at Flagstaff, Arizona. In 1895 he claimed in his book ‘Mars’ that this planet is inhabited by intelligent beings, who are three times larger than humans. In 1906 he detailed further evidence for this theory in ‘Mars and Its Canals’.

    Considering that Mars is older than Earth he postulated that Martian life was superior to our own, and that the canals were evidence that they were still in existence.

    Today, we know his ideas are wrong.

    • Thanks for that Nigel. Interestingly, early astronomers also reported seeing ‘flashes of light’ from Mars, which they attributed to alien beings trying to communicate with Earth.

  • Steve

    Is it actually possible to terraform mars with todays current technology? Or are scientists still trying to figure that out?

    • It’s not possible as of yet Steve, and probably won’t be in our lifetime. Unfortunately it’s just fanciful speculation at the moment. Who knows what the future holds, though.

      Jonny O’Callaghan
      Staff Writer