2 0 0 4 A n a m i d z u

Mars/Lowell Conference

Message from Tom DOBBINS


Howard, Ohio, USA

21 April 2004



Dear Masatsugu:


I am certain that you and your colleagues will enjoy Bill SHEEHAN's visit and that his presence will contribute greatly to the Lowell Conference. I envy Bill in many respects, not in the least his opportunity to visit the home of the late Tsuneo SAHEKI. Your generosity as host is very commendable.


Per your request, I have written a three paragraphs repeating Kuiper's remarks about Lowell and expressing my own view of the man:



LOWELL was vilified by many of his contemporaries and subjected to much ridicule by subsequent generations of astronomers. Gérard KUIPER, one of the few professional astronomers in the United States who chose to specialize in planetary research during the years immediately following the Second World War, charged that the canal controversy that Lowell had played such a prominent role in perpetuating had “brought disrepute to planetary science and weakened its status in universities.” One result of the tarnished reputation of the discipline, Kuiper noted, was that many observatories followed a tacit rule that planetary work could occupy no more than 10% of telescope time.


KUIPER's harsh appraisal of Lowell must be moderated by the undeniable fact that the vision of Mars that Lowell described in some of the most eloquent prose ever written about any astronomical subject matter had an enduring - and very beneficial - effect on the amateur astronomical community. Vestiges of the Mars that Lowell conjured up lingered well into the 1960s, both in the popular and in the scientific imagination, and served as a source of inspiration to three generations of amateur planetary observers. I can vividly recall the late Chick CAPEN telling me that following Mariner 4's images of a very bleak, Moonlike Martian landscape in 1965, the number of observer's contributing to the ALPO Mars Section abruptly fell by two-thirds. Once shorn of cherished illusions, the subject matter suddenly became unappealing for many.


The history of exploration and discovery contains many examples of illusions resulting in heroic efforts, and in some cases bringing great rewards. At the end of the day, I will always associate Percival Lowell with the notion that the scientific enterprise is a personal adventure.



I await the news of Bill's visit with great anticipation.


With my warmest regards and good wishes,



Co-Author of “Observing and Photographing the Solar System” (with Don PARKER and the late Chick CAPEN, 1988), “Epic Moon, A history of lunar exploration in the age of the telescope” (with Bill SHEEHAN, 2001) and others.

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