Beginning in the late-nineteenth century, several dialogues emerged concerning life on Mars. Some supported the notion of an inhabited Mars, citing recent observations of the planet, while others, pointing to a lack of concrete evidence, denied the validity of such a bold hypothesis. The dialogues within and between different groups focused on three primary topics: the existence of artificial canals on Mars, evaluation of scientific values, and methods to contact Mars from Earth. Scientists and science popularizers recognized the power of popular media to legitimate and perpetuate their interpretations of Mars and employed several tools to promote their ideas, especially when those ideas proved controversial. These methods were the use of environmental conditions as scientific authority, the creation of popular public identities, and promotion of the power of technology to discover hidden truths of the universe.
Mars and Popular Astronomy draws upon resources in several manuscript and correspondence collections from archives housed at Lowell Observatory, Caltech, Huntington Library, and University of California, Santa Cruz. This study also relies on contemporary newspapers and popular magazines. When pieced together, these documents reveal the tactics that scientists and science popularizers used in their efforts to define, create, and control popular science. They also show how competing interests overlapped and how participants in the debates grappled with definitions of scientific authority and the parameters for responsibility and accountability in science communication.