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November 2021
University of Arizona Press

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Discovering Mars

A History of Observation and Exploration of the Red Planet
William Sheehan
Jim Bell

For millenia humans have considered Mars the most fascinating planet in our solar system. We’ve watched this Earth-like world first with the naked eye, then using telescopes and, most recently, through robotic orbiters and landers and rovers on the surface.

Historian William Sheehan and astronomer and planetary scientist Jim Bell combine their talents to tell a unique story of what we’ve learned by studying Mars through evolving technologies. What the eye sees as a mysterious red dot wandering through the sky becomes a blurry mirage of apparent seas, continents and canals as viewed through Earth-based telescopes. Beginning with the Mariner and Viking missions of the 1960s and 1970s, space-based instruments and monitoring systems have flooded scientists with data on Mars’s meteorology and geology, and have even sought evidence of possible existence of life-forms on or beneath the surface. This knowledge has transformed our perception of the red planet and has provided clues for better understanding our own blue world.


Jim Bell is a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. He is heavily involved in NASA solar system exploration missions like those of the Mars rovers Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and Perseverance.

Praise for this book

"'Discovering Mars' is the written equivalent of a Mars close approach. Through the authors' pooled perspectives, a reader sees the red planet morph from Babylonian Death Star into the navigable world of windblown dust that remains a focus for human aspiration. Onward to Mars!"

Dava Sobel
Author of 'Galileo's Daughter'

"This is a detailed history of exploration, to be sure. But, it’s really about the passionate characters, the humans with their telescopes and robots, who have worked to know what goes on out there on this other world. As you read remember; what we’ve discovered there over the last couple of centuries is amazing; what we'll soon learn about Mars will be astonishing."

Bill Nye
The Planetary Society