You won’t believe this! The most incredible article about Martians you’ll ever read

Oct 11, 2016 | Language, Miscellaneous, Translation

attack on EnglandNow that I cunningly lured you in with my amazing click-bait title, I will tell you the truth about Martians.

Many people believe that an intelligent life form exists on Mars and Martians have been the subject of science fiction books and movies for more than a century. But did you know that all this obsession with Martian aliens is due to a 19th century mistranslation?

In the early 1880s Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli started the enormous task of mapping and naming Mars’ geographical areas. He distinguished between “seas” and “continents” that referred to the dark and light areas and he also called some bits “channels” or “canali” in Italian.

Then this is where things went wrong. The Italian word can also mean “canals” and as at the time the world lived in canal craze because of the grandiose Suez Canal that was completed in 1869, people assumed these channels Schiaparelli was talking about were not natural features but artificially built. This must have meant that there is intelligent life on Mars!

Then US astronomer Percival Lowell ran with the idea and mapped more canals from his private observatory in Arizona. He genuinely believed that these were artificial structures created by brainy Martians to divert water from the polar regions to the equatorial areas. He then summarised his findings in a book in 1895.

English writer H. G. Wells got inspired by the possibility of an intelligent life form on Mars and published his now well-known novel, “The War of Worlds” two years later. Since then Martians got featured in hundreds of books and movies, making them one famous species in the universe.

And it’s all because of an unfortunate mistranslation!


Sources: BBC, NASA

Source of image: Wikimedia Commons