Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Silicon and Solitude
by Shane D. Rhinewald

Expedition of the Arcturus
by JZ Murdock

Nude Bargain
by Olga Godim

Dirtsiders on Cinnabar
by Patrick Lundrigan

by Tom Tinney

History of Humanity’s First Alien Contact in the Year 2023
by Eric M. Jones

Space Cadets of the Apocalypse
by Dave Fragments

Illegal Alien
by Betsy Streeter

A Tangle of Brilliance
by Charles Barouch


Playing a Role in Science Fiction
by Clayton J. Callahan

Prof. Pickering’s Practical Plan
by The Editors




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Prof. Pickering’s Practical Plan

By The Editors

IN 1909, THIS PLAN FROM THE July issue of “Popular Mechanics” to signal Mars was the best science of the time by the renowned American astronomer, Prof. William H. Pickering of Harvard University. Pickering was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1883, and is best known for his discovery of Saturn’s ninth moon, Phoebe, in 1898. Pickering also oversaw the construction of several observatories, including the Flagstaff Observatory.

Pickering had developed a firm belief that there were moon-men and published extensively on the subject. In a “New York Times” article of October 9, 1921, he cited crops growing on some parts of the moon at the rate of two per day, the day on the moon being as long as two of our weeks. “They are believed to grow only in the craters, with which the face of the moon is extensively pitted and which are believed to contain water and heat,” he explained. The article goes on to say that Pipop mechckering discovered steam issuing from some of the supposedly dead craters, “No scientific man has advanced the theory that there is intelligent life on the moon,” Pickering said. “If there is life, it is believed to be a low form. Of course, no one can say positively that intelligent life does not exist there.” Pickering criticizes astronomers for neglecting the study of the moon, according to the article, because of an unproved hypothesis that it was lifeless.

Pickering based his assertions as to moon life on a series of telescopic photographs. Another “New York Times” article cited that Pickering's moon plates disclosed not only the presence of vegetation, but great blizzards and snow storms sweeping across portions of the moon, volcanic eruptions, and an abundance of clouds. “We find there a living world, lying at our very doors, where life in some respects resembles that on Mars, but is entirely unlike anything on our planet,” Pickering concludes.

“The Scheme to Signal Mars” was published with the subhead, “Prof. Pickering’s Practical Plan.” We reprint it here in its entirety.


The world was somewhat startled recently by the assertion of Prof. W. H. Pickering, of Harvard University, that he had a scheme by which it would be possible, if not highly probable, for the earth to communicate with Mars by means of signals if there are living and intelligent beings upon it, as many noted scientists believe.

His method of making communication possible would cost $10,000,000, which he does not believe anyone will be willing to furnish. He is also among those who seriously doubt that there are any living beings upon Mars, although he has due respect for the theories of those opposed to him, but he does believe that his scheme of sending messages is the one practical way of finding out, once for all, whether there are such beings, although he admits that if no answering signals were made, it would not disprove the theories that Martians exist.

Whatever the merits of the scheme may be, however, from a mechanical standpoint it is of great interest as narrated by the man who formulated it.

“My scheme,” says Prof. Pickering, “is to fix 50 mirrors, each mirror 25 feet square, on shafts like the polar axis of an equatorial telescope. Each large mirror should be made up of 100 little ones, 2-1/2 feet square. There should be 50 shafts, thus bringing the total number of 25-foot square mirrors up to 2,500. I estimate that each large mirror would cost $4,000, including motors, labor, attendance, etc., thus making a total of $10,000,000. This number of mirrors would make, in all, one-fourth of a square mile of mirrors.

“The shafts would be mounted parallel to the axis of the earth, and caused to revolve by means of motors in a direction opposite to that in which the world revolves. By this means a steady flash of light, bright enough to be visible through a telescope, would be sent from the earth to Mars. The question of thesignal number of mirrors necessary for sending this flash is a simple matter of astronomical calculation which any astronomer can figure out in five minutes.

“The signals from the earth should be kept up for three or four months, and at the end of the year they should be started again, and continued perhaps, for several years. It is reasonable to expect that if there are Martians in existence of sufficient intelligence to take notice of these signals, they will have done so by that time, if they are going to do it at all. It is probable that they would erect some apparatus similar to the signal-flashing mirrors on the earth. Then, if flashes similar to those sent from the earth were flashed from Mars, a system of dots and dashes would have to be studied out. In hoping, to get such signals back, we must assume, of course, that the Martians, if there are any, have telescopes, eyes, etc., just as human beings have on this earth.”

The minimum distance between Mars and the earth is 35,000,000 miles, but for the receiving of signals from the earth, Mars, according to astronomers, is in better position when it is off to one side, about 50,000,000 miles away. The signals could then be flashed from the side of the earth which is in the sunlight to the dark side of Mars. Mars gets into this advantageous position twice every two years, such a time being due next September.


Using the technology of his time, the Mars signal scheme by Pickering could have actually worked. There were motors available. A large enough array of mirrors reflecting sunlight would have been visible from Mars. Perhaps not with the naked eye, or whatever Martians used as visual receptors, but certainly with a modestly powerful telescope. The Martians would only have had to aim their telescopes at North America and they would have seen a faint blinking. The regularity of the signal would have proven to them that they were being contacted by Earth. How the Martians might have responded is the stuff of science fiction.

But how crazy was this compared to any other scheme to transmit a “Hello” to anywhere else in the cosmos? Drawing elaborate maps of Mars, astronomers Giovanni Schiaparelli, Charles E. Burton, and Percival Lowell spurred turn of the century scientists like Nicola Tesla to run elaborate experiments in early radio to detect alien signals. Will any alien contact plan we devise today look just as silly in another century? infinity

“Perihelion” occasionally reprints historical articles that are of unique interest
today, either for content or to contrast theories that were once considered solid by prominent scientists of the time. We hope you will enjoy reading them.