Hello, Earth! Early 20th Century Scientists Discuss Communication with Mars - An Engineer's Aspect


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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hello, Earth! Early 20th Century Scientists Discuss Communication with Mars

Early in the 20th Century, Americans were fascinated with the concept of life on Mars. Scientists were endeavoring to establish contact with both Mars and our moon.

This newspaper article from 1920 epitomizes the amount of speculation and research being done at the time by many well-known scientists. Some used science...some science fiction.

The Lytton Star, Lytton, Iowa, March 18, 1920, Page 3.

"Hello, Earth! Hello!"

OF COURSE you recall Jules Verne's "Ten Thousand Leagues Under the Sea." Well, his submarine is now an accomplished fact, isn't it?

And doubtless you read Kipling's "With the Night Mail." Well, the Atlantic has been crossed in a single flight, hasn't it!

Probably, also, you read H. G. Wells "The War of the Worlds," in which the Martians descended upon us with fighting machines even more formidable than the tanks of the great war and a mysterious agent of wholesale destruction even more deadly than any gas used by either side.

Well, who shall say that Wells hasn't the right idea about Mars being inhabited by beings just as smart as we are--and probably a good deal smarter?

It is a bold man who say "impossible" these days.

Anyway, Guglielmo Marconi, the famous Italian engineer, who perfected wireless telegraphy, has opened up an exceedingly interesting question by this statement:

"I have encountered during my experiments with wireless telegraphy most amazing phenomena. Most striking of all is the receipt by me personally of signals which I believe originated in the space beyond our planet. I believe it is entirely possible that these signals may have been sent by the inhabitants of other planets to the inhabitants of earth.

Image: Guglielmo Marconi, 1908.

"If there are any human beings on Mars I would not be surprised if they should find a means of communication with this planet. Linking of the science of astronomy with that of electricity may bring about almost anything.

"While our own planet is a storehouse of wonders, we are not warranted in accepting as a fact the general supposition that the inhabitants of our comparatively insignificant planet are any more highly developed than inhabitants (if there be such) of other planets.

"For all we know, the strange sounds that I have received by wireless may be only a forerunner of a tremendous discovery.

"The messages have been distinct but unintelligible. They have been received simultaneously in London and in New York, with identical intensity, indicating that they must have originated at a great distance.

"These signals are apparently due to electromagnetic waves of great length, which are not merely stray signals. Occasionally such signals can be imagined to correspond with certain letters of the Morse code. They steal in at our stations irregularly at all seasons. We do not get the signals unless we establish a minimum of 65 mile wave lengths. Sometimes we hear these planetary or interplanetary sounds 20 or 30 minutes after sending out a long wave. They do not interrupt traffic, but when they occur they are very persistent.

"The most familiar signal received is curiously, musical. It comes in the form of three short raps, which may be interpreted as the Morse letter 'S,' but there are other sounds which may stand for other letters.

"The war prevented an investigation of the Hertzian mystery, but now our organization intends to undertake a thorough probe."

Australia corroborates Marconi's statement. Highly skilled and experienced operators at Sydney have received numerous signals similar to those reported as having been received in England. They consist of frequent repetitions of two dashes, representing the letter M. They are on wave lengths of 80,000 to 120,000 meters. The Australian experts say such wave lengths have never yet been used by any wireless station of the earth.

Image: Thomas Alva Edison, circa 1922.

Now what do the electrical authorities say on the general subject? Here it is, in brief:

Thomas A. Edison has this to say: "Although I am not an expert in wireless telegraphy, I can plainly see that the mysterious wireless interruptions experienced by Mr. Marconi's operators may be good grounds for the theory that inhabitants of other planets are trying to signal to us. Mr. Marconi is quite right in stating that this is entirely within the realm of the possible.

"I have given some thought to the matter and can record one personal experience which may or may not have bearing on proving that Mr. Marconi is right. I was seated on the peak of a great pile of iron ore near the reduction plant at Orange...[unreadable]...when I noticed that the magnetic needle
was jumping about in astonishing fashion. The thought immediately popped into my mind that static signals from some other planet were probably responsible. This idea took such a hold on me that I made the definite suggestion that there be established in the ore fields of Michigan, a station where scientific vigil might be kept, in the hope that the great masses of ore in that region would attract magnetic signals from interplanetary space.

"If we are to accept the theory of Mr. Marconi that these signals are being sent out by inhabitants of other planets, we must at once accept with it the theory of their advanced development. Either they are our intellectual equals or our superiors. It would be stupid for us to assume that we have a corner on all the intelligence in the universe."

Nikola Tesla, the famous Serbian inventor and electrical expert says: "Marconi's idea of communicating with the other planets is the greatest and most fascinating problem confronting the human imagination today. To insure success a body of competent scientists should be organized to study all possible plans and put into execution the best. The matter should be directed probably by astronomers with sufficient backing from men with money and imagination. Supposing that there are intelligent human beings on Mars, success is easily within the range of possibility. In March, 1907, I stated in the Harvard Illustrated Magazine that experiments looking to communication with other planets should be undertaken.

Image: Nikola Tesla, circa 1890.

"In 1899 I built an electric plant in Colorado and obtained activities of 18,000,000 horsepower. In the course of my experiments I employed a receiver of virtually unlimited sensitiveness. There were no other wireless plants near, and, at that time, no other wireless plants anywhere on this earth of sufficient range to affect mine. One day my ear caught what seemed to be regular signals. I knew that they could not have been produced upon the earth. The possibility that they came from Mars occurred to me, but the pressure of business affairs caused me to drop the experiment.

"The thing, I think, that we should try to develop is a plan akin to picture transmission, by means of which we could convey to the inhabitants of Mars knowledge of earthly forms. This would enable us to exchange with them not only simple primitive facts, but involved conceptions. To talk to Mars seems to me only a matter of electric power and perseverance."

Frank Dyson, British astronomer royal, believes we could get Hertzian waves from other planets. Prof. Edward Branley, Paris, inventor of the coherer, is aceptical. Prof. Domenico Argentieri, Rome, says the supposed signals are worthy of careful observation.

Image: Albert Einstein, 1921.

Prof. Albert Einstein, the German astronomer and author of the theory of "Relativity" that is apparently upsetting all accepted doctrines, believes that Mars and other planets are inhabited, but if intelligent creatures are trying to communicate with the earth he should expect them to use
rays of light, which could much more easily be controlled.

Are there inhabitants on Mars? That's a question on which scientists differ.

Among scientists who have won the right to speak with authority the foremost was the late Professor Lowell, director of the observatory at Flagstaff, Ariz. Not only was Professor Lowell convinced that Mars was inhabited, but he believed the people had a much higher degree of intelligence than those on earth. He dwelt particularly on their inventive genius.

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."
Image: Percival Lowell, circa 1904.

Professor Lowell had little to say about the appearance of the beings on Mars. Edmond Perrier, director of the museum of the Jardin des Plantes, in Paris, constructed the first picture of the Martians as he conceived them. He said in part:

Image: Edmond Perrier.

"The men on Mars are tall because the force of gravity is slight. They are blond because the daylight is less intense. They have less powerful limbs. Their large blue eyes, their strong noses, their large ears, constitute a type of beauty which we doubtless would not appreciate except as suggesting superhuman intelligence."

On the other hand, Dr. C. G. Abbott hold that if wireless messages are being received, it is not Mars, sending the signals, but most probably Venus. Abbott is director of the Smithsonian astrophysical observatory and assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He says Mars is eliminated as a possibility because known conditions on that planet would not permit the existence of any form of living creature. It is too cold there and there is practically no water vapor in its atmosphere.
Image: Dr. Charles G. Abbot.

Assuming that Mars or some other planet is signaling us, what can we do in the circumstances? Apparently we can do much.

Dr. James Harris Rogers of Hyattsville, Md., who has devoted his life to the study of electric waves and invented the underground and underseas wireless used during the war, declares he is going to undertake to teach the inhabitants of Mars the rudiments of intelligence of this planet. Within a year wireless communication will be established with Mars, Dr. Rogers believes.

L. J. Lesh, a New York radio engineer, suggests that one of the methods of constructing a gigantic station would be to erect huge antennae suspended by balloons like the British dirigible R-34. He asserts, however, that a still better way would be to use huge and brilliant shafts of light as antennae for the system. He thinks that projectors could be grouped around one spot where a great amount of electricity could be generated. He suggests Niagara Falls or some other spot with an enormous amount of water power.

Elmer A. Sperry has a searchlight capable of producing a beam having the illuminating intensity of 1,280,000,000 candle power. He would form a group of 150 to 200 of his searchlights and direct their combined beams in the direction of Mars. An aggregation of that sort would possess the luminous equivalent of a star of the seventh magnitude such as our telescopes are able to pick up readily. Therefore, assuming that the Martians had glasses of equal power, they should have no trouble in catching that dot of light from a distance of 35,000,000 to 40,000,000 miles.

It would be possible, no doubt, to operate these lights so that they could give slow signals which would fill all the requirements of a system of communication. However, an array of lights of this character and the needful energizing plant would cost a pretty sum.

The...[unreadable]...might be warranted some day, but certainly not until it is certain that we are being called by one of our, neighbors out in space.