Professor Harold Jacoby, Rutherford Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University, contended that “the Martians are not likely to have their world destroyed any more than are we,” adding that if any such catastrophe as hinted had actually occurred the news would have become known through some quicker channel than the British Astronomical Association. By this, it should be explained hastily, Professor Jacoby did not mean that the scientists across the Atlantic were slower in observation than others, but only that the disaster would have been revealed by telescopes everywhere long before a formal report could have been prepared. All this seemed to strengthen the theory of a huge convulsion advanced by the British scientists, although, as seems to be the fate of all questions concerning this much discussed and little understood celestial body, eminent authorities at once took opposing ground on the subject.
Professor F R Moulton, of the University of Chicago, also doubted the accuracy of the report, and Professor Lowell himself, author of the notion that Mars is inhabited, was not particularly impressed with it.
Professor Lowell, it will be remembered, held to the belief that the Martians were anything but a starving, needy people, and he constantly sought to fortify his position by offering new proofs of their prosperity, advancement and skill. In 1914 he found a new opportunity for strengthening his pet belief by announcing that instead of losing any of their canals the Martians had built two new ones, which could be seen plainly through the telescope.
“We have actually seen them formed under our eyes,” Professor Lowell said at the time, “and the importance of it can hardly be overestimated. The phenomenon transcends any natural law, and is only explicable so far as can be seen by the presence out yonder of animate will.” By animate will he meant, of course, human beings.
Professor Lowell was admittedly the leading spokesman for the Martians, and anything he said was worthy of the moat respectful consideration, but in view of recent developments many thinkers are asking if, after all, he was not mistaken in at least one particular, and if the “signals” picked up in New York and London were not efforts on their part to notify the earth folk of their desperate plight. No unusual manifestations to support this view have been witnessed recently on the distant planet, but it is at least a new guess on the subject, which is all that its originators claim for it.
Tesla believes it
To Nikola Tesla, there is nothing remarkable or impossible in the suggestion that the mysterious signals are from the Martians. Discussing the question, he said:
“To most people, the mere idea of flashing a signal over the immense gulf of 50,000,000 or 100,000,000 miles will naturally appear preposterous, but as I have stated in an article I wrote for The Harvard Illustrated Magazine of March, 1907, it is simply a feat of electrical engineering, apparently hazardous, but made perfectly feasible through inventions with which the experts are familiar.
“That the planets are inhabited is a foregone conclusion. It would be stupid to deny the existence of conditions suitable for the development of organic life on other planets.”
The next question is how the earth is to reply to these signals, supposing they are signals at all and what are the atmospheric obstacles that will have to be overcome.
Wireless messages have bee transmitted over a distance of from 3,000 to 4,000 miles when condition were favorable, although an official of the Radio Corporation of America, of which the Marconi system is a part, said that signals had been sent as far as 10,000 miles under unusual circumstances.Mars at times is only 50,000,000 miles away from the earth and a other times 250,000,000. It is frequently surrounded by vapors, as is the case, too, with Venus, which would be extremely difficult of penetration by light radiation, but the chief problem to be met would be the creation of a wireless apparatus of sufficient strength to send a message over the required distance.
Dr Charles P Steinmetz, chief consulting engineer of the General Electric Company, believes such an instrument possible, provided the world devoted itself to the invention with the same thoroughness it employed in the great war, but estimates it would cost at least $1,000,000,000 to do it.
“But there is one thing that should be remembered,” said David Sarnoff, commercial manager of the Radio Corporation of America, “that there are a great many conditions in the atmosphere of which we do not know, even when sending a message say, across the Atlantic or even a shorter distance.
“We know something about wave lengths, and we know what happens when we send a message and when we receive it, but what happens en route is still pretty much of a mystery.
Niagara Falls would help
“In connection with the actual practicalities in sending a wireless message over such a distance as that between the earth and Mars, that, I may say, is something about which the newspaper men know almost much as we do. But the chief problem, it would seem to me, would be to find an instrument powerful enough, rather than anything else and this would be no small achievement. We would have to harness Niagara Falls and every other power producing agency that I know of to do it.”
“Electricity travels at a speed of little more than 186,000 miles a second, and a message going that rate would take a little more than twenty-two minutes to reach Mars when it is at its furthest point from the earth, and about four minutes and twenty-one seconds when it is nearest. According to the same calculation it would take two minutes and eighteen seconds to send a radiogram to Venus, two minutes and fifty-nine seconds to the sun, two seconds to the moon, thirty-five minutes to Jupiter, one hour and six minutes to Saturn, two hours and thirty-two seconds to Uranus, and four hours and two minutes to Neptune.
Images: 1. A signal from Mars: march and two step by Raymond Taylor (1901); 2. The original newspaper page as it appeared in 1920; 3. The Martians from HG Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” (1906); 4. Cover art by Frank E Schoonover from Thuvia, Maid of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1920); 5. My lover in Mars / words and music by Ewart G Ellis (1893); 6. Illustration from the original newspaper story