The relation of the stars to the sun and moon in their respective motions was one of the earliest problems for the astronomer, and it was only solved by careful and continuous observation, which showed that the invisibility of the former during the day was wholly due to the blaze of light, and this is said to have been proved at an early period by the observed fact that from the bottom of very deep wells stars can be seen while the sun is shining. During total eclipses of the sun also the brighter stars become visible, and, taken in connection with the fixity of position of the pole-star, and the course of those circumpolar stars which never set in the latitudes of Greece, Egypt, and Chaldea, it soon became possible to frame a simple hypothesis which supposed the earth to be suspended in space, while at an unknown distance from it a crystal sphere revolved upon an axis indicated by the pole-star, and carried with it the whole host of heavenly bodies. This was the theory of Anaximander (540 B.C.), and it served as the starting-point for the more complex theory which continued to be held in various forms and with endless modifications down to the end of the sixteenth century.
It is believed that the early Greeks obtained some knowledge of astronomy from the Chaldeans, who appear to have been the first systematic observers of the heavenly bodies by means of instruments, and who are said to have discovered the cycle of eighteen years and ten days after which the sun and moon return to the same relative positions as seen from the earth. The Egyptians perhaps derived their knowledge from the same source, but there is no proof that they were great observers, and the accurate orientation, proportions, and angles of the Great Pyramid and its inner passages may perhaps indicate a Chaldean architect.
But in the case of Mars the progress of discovery has had a very different result. The most obvious peculiarity of this planet—its polar snow-caps—were seen about 250 years ago, but they were first proved to increase and decrease alternately, in the summer and winter of each hemisphere, by Sir William Herschell in the latter part of the eighteenth century. This fact gave the impulse to that idea of similarity in the conditions of Mars and the earth, which the recognition of many large dusky patches and streaks as water, and the more ruddy and brighter portions as land, further increased. Added to this, a day only about half an hour longer than our own, and a succession of seasons of the same character as ours but of nearly double the length owing to its much longer year, seemed to leave little wanting to render this planet a true earth on a smaller scale. It was therefore very natural to suppose that it must be inhabited, and that we should some day obtain evidence of the fact.