University Lowbrow Astronomers

Astronomy Bibliography
Mars Book List

by Dave Snyder

This is a list of references used in “An Observational History of Mars.” by Dave Snyder. April and May 2001.)


------. 1974. Mars as Viewed by Mariner 9: A Pictorial Presentation by the Mariner 9 Television Team and the Planetology Program Principal Investigators. Washington, D. C.: Scientific and Technical Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA SP-329).

A brief introduction along with a selection of black and white images from the Mariner 9 orbiter.

Bergreen, Laurence. 2000. Voyage to Mars: NASA’s Search for Life Beyond Earth. New York: Riverhead Books.

A history of NASA’s efforts to send spacecraft to Mars. The book has the story behind various people who contributed to the search for life on Mars. It discusses the Viking landers, the Mars Pathfinder mission as well as ALH84001 (the meteorite which might possibly contain evidence of fossilized Martian microorganisms).

Carr, Michael H. 1996. Water on Mars. New York: Oxford University Press.

Flammarion, Camile. 1892. La Planète Mars et ses conditions d’habitabilité. Volume 1, Paris: Gauthier-Vallars et Fils.

------. 1909. La Planète Mars et ses conditions d’habitabilité. Volume 2, Paris: Gauthier-Vallars et Fils.

These two volumes, published in french, give a good description of what was known about Mars at time of publication. The second volume has many sketches from Schiaparelli (among others) and presents a sampling of ideas from Percival Lowell (Flammarion was very sympathetic to Lowell’s ideas, and held similar ideas himself).

Hoyt, William Graves. 1996. Lowell and Mars. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press.

Hoyt organized the many letters, papers and newsletter clippings from the Lowell Observatory archives, and the result was this biography of Percival Lowell. Hoyt acknowledged that the archives did not contain much criticism of Lowell even though many of Lowell’s contemporaries were very critical. The letters and papers tended to be biased in favor of Lowell, so were the selection of newsletter clippings. However, on the whole Hoyt managed to present a balanced view of Lowell, showing both his strengths and his flaws. It focuses mainly on Lowell’s observations of and speculations about Mars, but also mentions his studies of other planets and his search for “Planet X.” Some years after Lowell’s death, Planet X was discovered (it is now known as Pluto).

Kellogg, William W and Carl Sagan. 1961. The Atmospheres of Mars and Venus: A Report by the Ad Hoc Panel on Planetary Atmospheres of the Space Science Board (Publication 944). Washington, D. C.: The National Academy of Sciences National Research Council.

Discussion of the Martian atmosphere. This expands on de Vacoleurs’ book, but comes to essentially the same conclusion, the Martian atmosphere is mainly nitrogen with trace amounts of carbon dioxide and argon, however there seems to be more uncertainty, it is clear this is an educated guess based on limited information (a guess we now know to be wrong).

There is discussion of the polar caps, and the possibility of life on Mars. While critical of Lowell and his conjectures, Kellogg and Sagan leave open the possibility of life. This is clearly a modern perspective, they consider the best hope for life is with microorganisms, though they do not rule out the possibility of plant life. Animal life seemed unlikely.

Kieffer, H. H., Jakosky, B. M., Snyder C. W. and Matthews, Mildred S., editors. 1992. Mars. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press.

This book is the definitive source of information for what was known about Mars at the time of publication (but obviously does not discuss recent space missions, or recent findings related to ALH84001). It is long (there are 1498 pages), however do not be intimidated by the length, most of it will be readable by anyone who is comfortable with college level science books. There a few sections that require some mathematics or other specialized knowledge, but these can be skipped over if needed.

The beginning of the book has a brief history of Mars observation and there are extensive references for readers needing more information on a specific topic.

Lodder, Katharina and Bruce Fegley Jr. 1998. The Planetary Scientist’s Companion. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lowell, Percival. 1906. Mars and its Canals. New York: The MacMillan Company.

Percival Lowell was an important figure in the history of astronomy. He was an excellent observer and he took those observations to produce many ideas relating to Mars and astronomy. Some of these ideas have proven to be correct, others have proven to be wrong. Lowell refused to follow normal scientific protocol. Instead of allowing peer review to weed out the bad ideas from the good (as scientists usually do), he often took his ideas to the public to the irritation of many of his fellow scientists. He was particularly prone to do this when his ideas did not gain acceptance within the scientific community. He was very dogmatic about his ideas, refusing to admit that he was wrong even when there was evidence against him.

If you really want to understand Lowell, you need to read one of his books. This one discusses observations of Mars including the canals and what Lowell thought the canals were. Modern spacecraft have found no evidence of any canals, so it is puzzling why a number of excellent observers like Lowell believed the canals were real. While the book gives a lot of insight to this historical figure, it doesn’t completely answer this question.

Pickering, W. H. 1921. Mars. Boston: The Gorham Press.

Pickering was Percival Lowell’s first assistant. This book has a clear Lowell influence, but is less dogmatic than any of Lowell’s works. Pickering talks about surface changes, possible life, canals, and the possibility of communicating with life on the planet (he seems only partly serious about this last subject).

Price, Fred W. 2000. The Planet Observer’s Handbook. 2nd edition. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

This book is filled with useful information on observing the planets using common amateur telescopes. There are four chapters covering general information, plus one chapter each for Mercury, Venus, Mars, the asteroids, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Next there is a chapter on planetary maps, two on photography and an appendix listing spacecraft that have explored the solar system.

Reiber, Duke B., editor. 1986. The NASA Mars Conference. (Volume 71, Science and Technology Series: A Supplement to Advances in the Astronautical Sciences, Proceedings of the NASA Mars Conference held July 21-23, 1986, at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington D. C.). San Diego, California: Univelt, Incorporated.

Sagan, Carl. 1980. Cosmos. New York: Random House.

This is the companion book to the popular television series on PBS with the same name.

The book covers a lot of ground, but chapter 5, “Blues for a Red Planet” is the most relevant to the subject of Mars. The late Carl Sagan talks about Percival Lowell, who had some misguided ideas about Mars, but nevertheless influenced countless people into thinking about life on the planet; people such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, who wrote a series of science fiction novels and Robert Goddard, who spent his life building rockets that he hoped would go to Mars. The Burroughs novels, which describe a peaceful race of beings living on Barsoom (the same place we call Mars), were read by Sagan when he was young and he subsequently imagined traveling to Mars himself.

Next Sagan discusses the Viking mission to Mars. There were two Viking landers, each had experiments designed to detect life on Mars and each had a panoramic camera. Sagan insisted the landers have such cameras. He reasoned if there was life on Mars, perhaps evidence of it would show up in images returned by these spacecraft. This did not happen; nevertheless the landers returned impressive pictures. They showed a world that resembled the desert areas of the western United States. He said he would have been surprised if the cameras “saw a grizzled prospector emerge from a behind a dune, but at the same time the idea seemed appropriate.” While the Viking mission never found evidence of life, the search clearly will continue.

A few other sections of the book are relevant, including pictures on pages 15, 92 and 94 and text on pages 56-57, 60-61, 145 and 298-302.

Sheehan, William and O’Meara, Stephen James. 2001. Mars: The Lure of the Red Planet. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books.

This book discusses historical events before 1877, but its description of Schiaparelli, Lowell and others who studied Mars in the late 1800’s and the early 20th century is the most interesting (it presents many insights to the astronomers of the period). There is also some discussion of Mars space missions and ALH84001.

Slipher, E. C. and Wilson, A. G., secretaries. 1954. Report of the International Mars Committee. Flagstaff, Arizona: Lowell Observatory.

In the 1950’s the International Mars Committee coordinated a worldwide effort which held around the clock observations of Mars. This report discusses some of the results of this effort. It includes a section by University of Michigan astronomer Dean McLaughlin, who describes his conjecture that Mars has volcanoes and emissions from these volcanoes caused changes in the Martian maria. McLaughlin was partly correct. There are volcanoes on Mars, and dust causes changes in the Martian maria. However the dust comes from Martian soil, not from volcanoes (however the Martian soil is thought to be volcanic in origin).

de Vaucoleurs, Gerard. 1954. The Physics of Planet Mars: An Introduction to Areophysics. New York: The MacMillian Company.

This discusses what was known about the Martian atmosphere in the 1950’s. Based on limited information, de Vaucoleurs concluded that the Martian atmosphere was mainly nitrogen with small amounts of carbon dioxide and nobel gases (a conclusion that is now known to be wrong). There is also a discussion of Martian clouds, the violet layer, the polar caps and the composition of the surface (the bright areas were assumed to be iron oxides).

Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1907. Is Mars Habitable? A Critical Examination of Professor Percival Lowell’s Book “Mars and Its Canals” with an Alternative Explanation. London: MacMillian and Company. (Reprinted by Arcturus Press, 1983).

The title explains a lot. Wallace co-developed the theory of evolution (along with Charles Darwin). Wallace firmly believed that life existed only on the earth, and was irritated that Percival Lowell was so public with his ideas on canals and intelligent Martians. He wrote this book as a rebuttal against Mars and Its Canals. For the most part Wallace’s arguments are on better ground than Lowell’s arguments are.

The complete text of this book (along with other information on Alfred Russel Wallace) can be found at


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