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The Planet Mars: A History Of Observation And Discovery

by William Sheehan

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From Publishers Weekly
For those readers newly interested in astronomy, Sheehan offers an accessible history of the men who collected data about Mars and interpreted it. It's a little slow in starting; the earliest sections betray amateur astronomer Sheehan's fascination with the history of optics: "One of these triplet lenses with a 3.75-inch (95-mm) aperture was purchased by Neville Maskelyne for the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and another, of 3.8 inches (97mm), was acquired by the wealthy connoisseur," etc., etc. And it's also hard to believe that most general readers' interest will be sustained through albedo studies or his explanation of the Martian seasons. But what is arguably the central story is the coherent and compelling narrative of Giovanni Schiaparelli, Percival Lowell and the description of the "canals" of Mars, dark markings that Schiaparelli described and Lowell posited were a civilized society's attempts to harness water from melting polar caps. Sheehan points out that with the canals and the Martians who built them disproven and astrophysics on the rise, planetary astronomy suffered from neglect. The timing of Sheehan's (Planets and Perception) book was right on and slightly off. He missed the announcement of the discovery of what may be chemical and fossil evidence of life in the Martian rock ALH84001; but much of his history is concerned with the chimerical promise of life on the planet. "The odds of finding living organisms on Mars were obviously very slim," he says later in the book, "but it seemed that they might not be nil." Astronomy Book Club main.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
Although two decades have passed since the last spacecraft successfully visited Mars, several missions will be launched in the next year. In this timely volume, Sheehan (Worlds in the Sky, LJ 9/1/92) traces the history of our understanding of the planet that most closely resembles Earth and the evolution of the belief that, consequently, Mars harbors intelligent life. This optimistic view peaked with Percival Lowell's theories regarding the famous Martian canals in the early 20th century and finally was discredited by subsequent advances in astronomy and space science. Sheehan documents the discoveries made by earlier astronomers on through the Mariner and Viking spacecraft, which returned stunning images of Mars as it truly is?a cold, dry planet with the largest volcanoes and canyons in the Solar System. With the launch of the Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft scheduled for later this year, this book is recommended for libraries seeking to update their astronomy collections.?Thomas J. Frieling, Bainbridge Coll., Ga.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

The New York Times Book Review, Bill Kolata
The psychiatrist and amateur astronomer William Sheehan has written a history of fascination, the story of a continuing line of amateur and professional astronomers dedicated to the observation of the planet Mars.... The heart of The Planet Mars is dedicated to the age of the telescope, the 350 years from Galileo to the dawning of space exploration.... For him, viewing Mars through a diaphanous veil is more romantic than close, clinical observation by robotic vehicle.

From Booklist
After a hiatus of two decades since the Viking probes landed, Mars is due next year to receive two robotic earthlings. Anticipating renewed curiosity about the Red Planet, Sheehan ably narrates the course of the planet's discovery since Kepler solved its orbit. Earth-like seen through the telescope, with its polar caps, seasons, and changing coloration, Mars has long excited hopes, still not yet conclusively extinguished, as a harbor of life--though the "canals" Percival Lowell "saw" a century ago and assumed were built by a water-starved civilization have been relegated to the strange-but-true chapter in Martian lore. The Lowell saga comes after Sheehan chronologically recounts the work of more cautious astronomers who preceded him, who stolidly observed and struggled to measure the facts about the planet. The space age discoveries of Mars' true appearance were startling and created new challenges of interpretation to replace the historical questions that Sheehan straightforwardly explains. Tips on observing Mars round out this solid primer. Gilbert Taylor



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