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Who discovered Mars, right? A look back at the history of the Red Planet

Mars has been enchanting people for thousands of years.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Who discovered Mars? That is a trick question: Because the planet is visible to the naked eye, people have been watching our rusty neighbor for thousands of years, and there is no way to get the name of the long-dead observer, who first noticed its reddish glow.

But because we are never able to give that look sharp man a name is not to say that there is nothing interesting to learn more about the history of observing Mars.

Mars, like the other planets visible without a telescope, is caught by the eyes of the people for her unusual movement against the background of the constellations. The cultures of the Mayans, the Chinese and the Aboriginals, the Greeks, left of sightings of the wandering path across the sky. [Mars in Opposition Of 2018: How to See It, and What to Expect]

 

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That said, they did not know what Mars was — it was just a bright light that does not behave in exactly the same way as the other bright lights did. “These [the planets] of course, were never considered, as they are now, as their own separate worlds,” Anthony Aveni, who studies ancient astronomy of Central and South America, and who retired last year as a professor at Colgate University, told Space.com.

Early observers of Mars-priority of different types of observations of the planet than we do today. Modern astronomers focus on the sidereal year, the time it takes Mars to orbit the sun 687 days. But for centuries, Aveni said, that was not the number sky-minded people associated with Mars. “They recognize periodicities and movements that we don’t pay any attention to,” he said.

For Mars, that meant that people with priority 780 days, the average length of the cycle of Mars shows in the sky. The planet appears and disappears in the night sky, sometimes gliding in the sun-drenched sky and becoming invisible. If you looked up from appearance to appearance, or disappearance to disappear, a cycle would take approximately 780 days, the synodic period of the planet. “It’s about how Mars relates to you personally, how it relates to our culture,’ Aveni said. “It is not how long it runs, or it has life.”

Aveni mainly studies of the Maya, and he said that most of what we know about how they watched Mars come from only one book, called the Dresden Codex. The text contains a table of observations that scholars should know of Mars by the 780-day cycle.

The book also contains a drawing of what scholars call the “Mars Beast” that Aveni described as a ara-like creature with a nose like an elephant’s trunk. He added that the orbit of the planet, which carries a march over the entire sky, in the form of the properties associated with it. “He is more of a watchdog or a guardian of the whole landscape,” Aveni said.

Other cultures look to the sky, Aveni said, were more interested in how the different planets interact than in an individual planet travel. For example, he points to the Chinese astronomers, who were fascinated by planetary conjunctions.

An Australian Aboriginal communitysaw Mars as one of the four women after the moon; another saw Mars and Venus as the two eyes of a heavenly appearance. Although some of the traditions about Mars, survive, astronomers focused on Australia have the proof that the Indigenous peoples in the region are tracked, and the other planets carefully for millennia.

And, of course, the Greeks and the Romans followed the movements of Mars and other celestial bodies in the sky. They are associated with the Red Planet with their god of war (Mars for the Romans, Ares to the Greeks), gives us the Mars that we know today.

E-mail Meghan Bartels on mbartels@space.com or follow her on @meghanbartels . Follow us @Spacedotcom , Facebook and Google+ . Original article on Space.com .

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