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DETLEV VAN RAVENSWAAY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY DETLEV VAN RAVENSWAAY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli (1835-1910), Italian astronomer. Schiaparelli was, from 1862, the Director of the Milan Observatory for forty years. In 1866 he showed that meteors follow cometary orbits. In 1877 Mars made one of its closest approaches to Earth enabling Schiaparelli to discover its southern polar ice cap. He also saw many dark lines criss-crossing the planet and called them 'canali' (channels), which was mistranslated as 'canals'. As a result the American astronomer Lowell suggested that they were irrigation features constructed by a Martian civilisation when all along Schiaparelli believed them to be natural features.
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