The existence of organic life on Mars has again become a subject of lively speculation through the report of P. M. Ryves, a British astronomer who has been studying the red planet for the past ten years through a powerful telescope from a height of 8,000 feet on Teneriffe, one of the Canary Islands. Mars " appears far from a dead world," says Mr. Ryves, but " whether it is inhabited by intelligent beings like ourselves is perhaps the most absorbing question that confronts the human race." Since the pioneer observations of Professors Percival Lowell and W. H. Pickering, of Harvard, about 15 years ago, there have been marked changes on Mars. The dark marking called Syrtis Major, or the hourglass, has developed an appendage on one side which makes its shape nearly square. A large area of about 100,000 square miles, formerly appearing pale yellow like a desert region, has changed to a dusky brown. Some of the so-called lakes which had almost disappeared, have become unusually dark lately. New canals have appeared and others have changed color or broadened. But they do not show the vast, complicated network which Professor Lowell thought he observed there. The most distinctive features of the Martian topography are the polar snowcaps, brilliant white patches at the respective poles, which expand in the Martian winter and diminish in summer, just as the arctic regions on the earth. The color changes in the canals and spots are also seasonal, and very suggestive of vegetation. These and other observations have led to the irresistible conclusion that Mars has air, water, warmth, and vegetable life. The planet is 4,230 miles in diameter, but little more than half the size of the earth. It is 141 million miles from the sun on the average, as against the earth's 92, and its year is 686 of our days. Its atmosphere is very thin, but this is not an insuperable barrier to life, for the possibilities of living matter in evolving adaptations to unfavorable environments is greatly underestimated. It would be no more marvelous than the adaptations of the earth's organic life to the glacial changes.
The argument for a higher intelligence than ours in the hypothetical Martian creatures is based on the fact that Mars is smaller and older than the earth, and must have cooled at its surface millions of years before the earth. But neither Dr. Pickering, Mr. Ryves, Dr. Campbell (of Lick Observatory) or any other Martian experts are yet in a position to make positive statements regarding higher life on the planet. In August, 1924, Mars will be nearer to the earth (34,000,000 miles) than it has been since 1909, and we may learn a lot more about it.