SIGNALLING TO MARS — A PROBLEM OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING.
BY NIKOLA TESLA.
In the early part of 1900, still vividly impressed by certain observations I had made shortly before, and feeling that the time had come to prepare the world for an experiment which will soon be undertaken, I dwelt on the practicability of interplanetary signalling in an article which appeared in the June number of the Century Magazine of the same year. In order to correct an erroneous report which gained wide circulation, a statement was published in Collier's weekly of Feb. 9, 1901, defining my position in general terms. Ever since, my thoughts have been centred on the subject, and my original conviction has been strengthened both by reflection and suggestion.
Chief among the stimulating influences was the revelatory work of Percival Lowell, described in a volume with which the observatory, bearing his name, has honored me. No one can look at his globe of Mars without a feeling of profound astonishment, if not awe. These markings, still imperfectly discerned and incomprehensible, but evidently intended for a useful purpose, may they not contain a record of deep meaning left by a superior race, perhaps extinct, to tell its young brethren in other worlds of secrets discovered, of life and struggle, of their own terrible fate? What mighty pathos and love in such a gigantic drama of the universe! But let us hope that the astronomer has seen true, that Mars is not a cold grave, but the abode of happy intelligent creatures, from whom we may learn. In the light of this glorious possibility, signalling to that planet presents itself as a preeminently practical proposition which, to carry out, no human sacrifice could be too great. Can it be done? What chance is there that it will be done?
These questions will be answered definitely the moment all doubt as to the existence of highly developed beings on Mars is dispelled. The straightness of the lines on Lowell's map. their uniform width and other geometrical peculiarities, do not, themselves, appeal to me as strong proofs of artificiality. I should think that a planet large enough not to be frozen stiff in a spasm of volcanic action, like our moon, must, in the course of eons, have all its mountains leveled, the valleys filled, the rocks ground to sand, and ultimately assume the form of a smooth spheroid, with all its rivers flowing in geodetically straight lines. The uniform width of the water-ways can be consistently explained, their crossings, however odd and puzzling, might be accidental. But I quite agree with Professor Morse, that this whole wonderful map produces the absolute and irresistible conviction, that these "canals" owe their existence to a guiding intelligence. Their great size is not a valid argument to the contrary. It would merely imply that the Martians have harnessed the energy of waterfalls. We know of no other source of power competent to explain such tremendous feats of engineering. They could not he accomplished by capturing the sun's rays or abstracting heat imparted to the atmosphere, for this, according to our best knowledge, would require clumsy and inefficient machinery. Large falls could be obtained near the polar caps by extensive dams. While much less effective than our own, they could well furnish several billions of horse-power. It should be borne in mind that many Martian tasks in mechanical engineering are much easier than the terrestrial, on account of the smaller mass of the planet and lesser density, which, in the superficial layers, may be considerably below the mean. To a still greater degree this is true of electrical engineering. Taking into account the space encompassed by Mars, a system of wireless transmission of energy, such as I have perfected, would be there much more advantageously applied, for, under similar conditions, a receiving circuit would collect sixteen times as much energy as on the earth.
The astonishing evidences furnished by Lowell are not only indicative of organic life, but they make it appear very probable that Mars is still populated; and furthermore, that its inhabitants are highly developed intelligent beings. Is there any other proof of such existence? I answer, emphatically, yes, prompted both by an instinct which has never yet deceived me, and observation. I refer to the strange electrical disturbances, the discovery of which I announced six years ago. At that time I was only certain that they were of planetary origin. Now, after mature thought and study, I have come to the positive conclusion that they must emanate from Mars.
Life, as a great philosopher has said, is but a continuous adjustment to the environment. Similar conditions must bring forth similar automata. We can have no idea what a Martian might be like, but he certainly has sensitive organs, much as our own, responsive to external stimuli. The indications of these instruments must be real and true. A straight line, a geometrical figure, a number, must convey to his mind a clear and definite conception. He ought to think and reason like ourselves. If he breathes, eats and drinks, he is moved by motives and desires not very different from our own. Such colossal transformation as is observable on the face of Mars could not have been wrought except by beings ages ahead of us in development. What wonder, then, if they have maps of this, our globe, as perfect as Professor Pickering's photographs of the moon? What wonder if they are signalling to us? We are sufficiently advanced in electrical science to know that their task is much easier than ours. The question is, Can we transmit electrical energy to that immense distance? This I think myself competent to answer in the affirmative.
Originally published in "Harvard Illustrated" (March 1907). Browse HathiTrust.org for complete, public-domain issues of Harvard Illustrated and a variety of early 20th century publications.
Return to the Nikola Tesla on the Borderland homepage.