Sunday, December 4, 2011

Early areology: mapping the surface of Mars and naming features

The first detailed map of Mars was created in 1877 by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910), who—in Milan—observed the Martian surface through a telescope and determined 62 clearly recognizable features by latitude and longitude. Schiaparelli replaced the terms of  those few Martian structures, which the Englishman Richard Antony Proctor had compiled ten years earlier from observations made by William Rutter Dawes. These structures had preferably been named after British astronomers. Schiaparelli, instead, named Martian locations and “landmarks” after the geography of the Mediterranean. He was also inspired by terms from the Bible and ancient mythology [1-4].

Schiaparellis name inventions include Elysium (“Home of the blessed” in Greek mythology), Tharsis (after the biblical Tarshis, referring to the land at the western extremity of the world) and Syrtis Major (after the Gulf of Sirte, Libya). At Google Mars ( you can explore these foreign territories. Schiaparelli's canali cannot be found on Google's Mars maps, since they do not exist: Eugène Michael  Antoniade observed the planet in 1909 with the “Grande Lunette” (Europe's largest telescope at that time) at the observatory in Meudon near Paris and convinced himself of the non-existence of the canali.  His (negative) findings were soon to be confirmed by observations with the refractory telescope on Mt. Wilson, California [1].

With the advancing exploration of Mars, some of Schiaparelli's names seem misleading and have been changed slightly. For example, “Nix Olympica” (snow of Mount Olympus, Greece) is now named Olympus Mons, since it is not a snow-covered mountain, but the highest volcano in the solar system. In 1990, Sierra Leone in Africa issued two stamps sketching this gigantic volcano to salute the ongoing exploration of Mars: one stamp with the name Nix Olympica printed on it, the other with the name Olympus Mons [5].

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, areology (science of Mars), areography (geology of Mars), history, philately.

References and more to explore
[1] Ulf von Rauchhaupt: Der Neunte Kontinent - Die wissenschaftliche Eroberung des Mars. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, November 2010; pages 35 and 43.
[2] The Encyclopedia of Science > Schiaparelli, Giovanni Virgino (1835-1910):
[3] Encyclopedia. com > Giovanni Virgino Schiaparelli:
[4] Library Index > Science Encyclopedia > Mars - Giovanni Schiaparelli [].
[5] (scroll to the bottom to see the two stamps).

No comments:

Post a Comment