Friday, March 4, 2011

Letter in 1887 issue of Cassell's Family Magazine describes well-illuminated subterranean city on Mars


Letter the Second.
In the Antarctic Regions of Mars.

Mount Aristarchus on the Moon.

Dear Friend,— I have thought of mentioning to you one of the sights I saw on Mars, which may interest you, and be of use as suggesting what man might effect if only he learnt wisdom. Your Arctic regions are useless; left to the Polar bear, or the whale and walrus. Man's dominion does not extend to them, even to those realms nearest to the most cultured lands of Europe. As for your Antarctic regions, you actually know less of them than of the Antarctic realms of Mars, for these you can see in your most powerful telescopes—you can at least discern the outlines of land and sea. But of the Antarctic realms of the earth no man can tell whether they are land or sea, whether the Antarctic continent is a fable or a fact, though it is probably the former.

When I arrived at the Mitchell Mountains, in the Antarctic zone of Mars, I was struck with the vast scene of icy desolation there—very like the mountain regions of Greenland, only that the sea around was green, and not blue. After traversing some hundreds of miles of their snowy peaks and cliffs, and magnificent wild Arctic scenery (not unlike the Arctic scenery of earth), I was suddenly struck with the sight of a trail of rich red vegetation of several miles in the midst of the eternal snows. I approached with curiosity this oasis in the frozen desert. As I approached I felt the air suddenly grow less icy, or rather the icy blasts were relieved by warmer air currents, and these currents seemed to rise from what appeared to be a huge crater of a volcano (very like the volcanoes of earth or the extinct ring mountains of the moon, and, on a smaller scale, like our ring mountains). “Surely,” I thought, “here is volcanic action.” Still I noticed no eruption, nor geysers, nor lava current.

The night came on. The Martian moon Phoibos was dimly visible near the horizon. All else was dark and calm, save the stars above. From an opening in the mountain, in the very center of the warmer oasis, a light issued; but not the ruddy light of molten lava, nor sulphurous flickering flame, but the calm white electric light. It appeared issuing from the ground. I approached, and then I saw it came from a vast chasm, which, however, was not opened perpendicularly down into the depths, but seemingly sloped downwards into an angle. As I drew near, I noticed some hundreds of Martians busy about the opening.

It was difficult to enter the chasm without being perceived, but as I noticed the electric light only illumined well the lower part of the slope—i.e., that near the ground—and that the overhanging rocks were at a great height in comparative darkness, I resolved to make the attempt.

I flew in the shadow right into the tunnel. Then I felt the air was warmer, and as I went on, going onward and onward, it grew warmer and warmer still. I flew forward thus several miles, the tunnel manifestly .sinking deeper and deeper by its decline in the slope. The light was less, and the electric lamps grew further and further apart. By them, however, I noticed cars of the Martians hurried forward into the tunnel, and descended by it deeper and deeper into the planet's interior. It was, in fact, like a huge adit of a colossal mine.

So I thought for a time that it might be, until having gone some ten miles into the huge tunnel, and I should think some three or four miles down into the depth of the planet, below the level of the Arctic Sea, I came to a gigantic cavern about a mile high, and the limits of which I could not see on any side. Before me was a huge lake of evidently half-boiling water, through which there flowed a stream of burning lava, or rather that liquid rock which in Mars represents the lava of the earth. Through this lake there was a huge causeway, on which the Martian cars were carried onwards with their living freight. I flew onwards over the lake, and here and there on its dark steaming waters were the electric ships of the Martians, while in certain places' lighthouses were placed, which gave with the blaze of their electric lights a calm to a scene which otherwise might have been terrible. I followed the line of the causeway, and came at last to a shore, where was a well-illuminated city.

Here were hosts of factories, of vast machines, of smelting operations, of huge furnaces, deriving heat from the great lava streams issuing out of the depths of the planet. The air, instead of being cold, as on the surface above, was heated. Busy works were going on, and myriads of the Martians could be seen following in the city divers industries. It was a wonderful scene of activity.

When I looked at it, I thought, “Is not this more advanced planet representing to me what in future ages may be seen in the Arctic regions of the earth? Those realms are now cold, bound down, and frozen with intense eternal cold. They are useless to mankind. Yet if the surface be so frozen, it does not follow that the depths are so likewise. Nay, Hecla itself teaches how beneath frozen Iceland is a region of eternal fires of burning heat, such as might smelt all the metals of Birmingham.

“On earth man leaves these Arctic regions waste and barren, because he confines himself to the cold frozen surface; but the Martians are wiser—their Arctic regions, indeed, are even colder than those on earth, but they can obtain heat beneath the surface. A few miles below Siberia or Labrador are regions hotter than man can bear. I have met miners on earth who, in latitudes north of 50° on earth, have told me that in the coldest winters, when the surface of the earth is frozen and covered with-the white snows, they have been so hot that they have had to labour with their clothes off, almost naked, on account of the heat. Why not utilise these subterranean fires? Underneath Manchester or Glasgow, or far colder regions, are subterranean fires, more potent than all the coal of the Lancashire or Staffordshire coal measures could produce. Intense heat is to be found a mile or two beneath earth's surface. Why should that heat be all useless? How absurd of man to lament the chimerical troubles that the coal measures can be exhausted by human industry, when the earth's heat alone offers a greater heat than the burning up of all the coal measures of their world can produce; just as the force of the tides of earth's oceans, now utterly wasted, even in England itself, could produce a thousand times greater power (capable of being converted into the master-force of electricity) than all the steam-engines of earth could produce—a mighty, almost immeasurable force!”

In those regions not far from the Mitchell Mountains in the hilly country of Cassini Land, I saw another quaint scene no less wonderful, which may be regarded as the natural outcome of the immense power over nature (to mould it to their will) which the Martians possess, and which man may in time attain when mechanical arts are further advanced than they are now, should the instinct of mound-building ever revive on earth. I noticed in those more favoured regions of the Martian south temperate zone, as I approached Cassini Land over the green waves of the Zollner Sea, what looked like colossal statues of gigantic Martians, several hundred feet high. These enormous statues struck me as very singular. I approached them and saw that they were natural hills cut into shapes of gigantic size many times larger than the huge Colossus of Rhodes, or the figure of Liberty at New York. In one case, indeed, a gigantic crouching figure was so vast that its head was surmounted with a crown, within the border of which a little city had been erected. Another hill was cut into the form of one of the Martian trees, and on each leaf there stood a house, looking like a flower or bud. In another hill two projecting peaks had been fashioned into two hands, and in each hand a house was built. “Here,” I thought, “is something of the state of things that might have even now occurred on earth, had the present civilised inhabitants shared the desire of moulding hills into the form of natural objects which once existed among the Mound-builders of Wisconsin and Ohio. Had those Mound-builders, instead of being exterminated by superior races, left descendants capable of carrying out their ideas and of utilising the steam-engine, and dynamite, and the various forces of civilisation, what a strange land of wonders the Western States of America would have been! Almost as wonderful as Cassini Land in Mars. But the European builds for himself, as the ancient American tried to fashion natural objects to his own uses; the European having conquered, the American ideal has never had a chance of being carried out on earth.”

I saw many wonderful engineering works on Mars—huge canals and causeways, and coasts rounded of their promontories (blown away by explosives)—such as I should think the astronomers of earth, if they have not yet seen them, must surely observe before very long.


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