Red Planet

En route to Mars

Small little green men, horrible monsters, ethereal and ancient creatures. Different forms, sometimes peaceful, sometimes not so much, for the best-known extraterrestrials: the Martians! But why not the venusians, Jovians or or the inhabitants of the Andromeda Galaxy? What makes Martian aliens ever-present in our collective imagination? To understand this we have to make a long step backwards, when the famous Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, in 1877, astonished the world with its unique telescopic observations of Mars. He described major areas that seemed huge forests, straight channels that (in the scientist's imagination) conveyed water from the polar caps to the dry Equatorial areas. As it turned out later, the famous channels were nothing more than optical illusions, but they had huge public resonance nevertheless. Mars is a planet similar to Earth, with a diameter of approximately 6,000 kilometres, a rotation period of 24 hours and an average temperature of 40 degrees below zero, featuring polar ice (like the Arctic and Antarctica) and huge deserts, thus it is the most "terrestrial" planet we know. These life-friendly feautures convinced 19th century astronomers that Mars could really harbor a civilization as progressed as the human one. This idea gained strength in the 1950s, the golden age of American science fiction, when Martians thrived on the covers of sci-fi magazines and starred spectacular movies almost always portraying the invasion of Earth by powerful spaceships.