Nikola Tesla and Signals from Mars

Last week, I presented Thomas Edison’s claim of building a transmitter to communicate with spirits. Tesla_circa_1890 So, in all fairness, this week I turn to Nikola Tesla. While Edison’s claims about building a device to communicate with ghosts may have been a hoax, Tesla’s claim to have received extraterrestrial signals appears to have been completely genuine.

In 1909, Tesla wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times. The following is an excerpt in which he refers to the Martian canals which had regularly been observed by Percival Lowell, and his own experiments conducted in Colorado Springs circa 1899:

    To be sure, we have no absolute proof that Mars is inhabited. The straightness of the canals, which has been held out as a convincing indication to this effect, is not at all such. We can conclude with mathematical certitude that as a planet grows older and the mountains are leveled down ultimately every river must flow in a geodetically straight line. Such straightening is already noticeable in some rivers of the earth.

    But the whole arrangement of the so-called waterways, as pictured by Lowell, would seem to have been designed. Personally I base my faith on the feeble planetary electrical disturbances which I discovered in the summer of 1899, and which, according to my investigations, could not have originated from the sun, the moon, or Venus. Further study since has satisfied me that they must have emanated from Mars. All doubt in this regard will be soon dispelled.

In 1909, when this letter to the editor was written, there was something of a debate going on about Mars. Percival Lowell, an astronomer in Arizona, observed straight line features on the surface of Mars and believed they were canals built by intelligent beings. Alfred Russel Wallace, who developed evolutionary theory independent of Charles Darwin, argued that Mars was too cold for intelligent life and that the straight line features could not have been built by intelligent beings. Nathaniel Green, an exceptional amateur astronomer and Queen Victoria’s watercolor teacher, claimed the canals did not exist at all.

Clearly Tesla had come to believe that he intercepted signals from intelligent beings on Mars, coming down more on the side of Lowell than on the side of Wallace and Greene. There’s a nice, in-depth paper that discusses Tesla and his experiments with wireless transmission, including the extraterrestrial signals he received at:

In the article, they note that Tesla receivers are very sensitive and present their own theory about the signals Tesla received. The article links to a recording made in 1996 of lightning strikes on Jupiter, which sound remarkably like intelligent signals. So, by all appearances, Tesla was simply fooled.


Back in 2012, I wrote a story called “Commodities of Nature” for Science Fiction Trails magazine. In it, I ask what if Tesla’s wireless transmitter was a whole lot more powerful than he advertised and he was able to get a much closer view of Mars than anyone else in the Victorian age. The story itself is a pretty straightforward tale of environmentalism and wise resource management, but I like the version of the Teslascope I envisioned and the story also includes a nod to the friendship Tesla shared with Mark Twain.


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