Americans seem to have been infatuated with the concept of extraterrestrial life ever since Italian Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli placed his eye on the lens of that new (and very powerful) refractor telescope in the Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera. The Brera Observatory (so named because it was located in the Brera district of Milan, Italy) to this day sits on the very urban corner of Via Brera and Via Flori Ocsuri. The Jesuit astronomer Ruđer Josip Bošković (or “Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich,” depending on which ethnic group you believe controlled Dubrovnik in the Republic of Ragusa at the time of his birth) built the observatory in 1764. Within a decade, Pope Clements XIV issued his July 21, 1773 papal bull formally suppressing the Jesuits. Among other things, this papal bull passed the ownership of the observatory to municipal, rather than religious, authorities.
His early work having brought fame both to him and his country, the Kingdom of Italy bought Schiaparelli an 8.6 inch Merz Equatorial Refracting Telescope from famed German optician Georg Merz. In 1874 the telescope was installed on the roof of the Brera Observatory and Schiaparelli used it initially to study double stars. With the opposition of Mars set to happen on September 5, 1877, Schiaparelli turned his sight to the Red Planet. (An “opposition” is an astronomical event that occurs when the Earth is exactly between the Sun and the planet.) It was during this period of observations, beginning on September 12, 1877, that Schiaparelli drew his now famous map of Mars. Here lies, as they say, the rest of the story.Continue Reading “7th Heaven? I’m Not Saying It’s Aliens, But…”