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Artificial Satellites Around Mars -- April Fool's Day, 1959
An April Fool's joke by an amateur American astronomer was apparently taken seriously by a highly regarded Soviet scientist. Walter Scott Houston, professor of English at Kansas State College and editor of the Great Plains Observer, the monthly newsletter of the Great Plains Astronomical Society, included an article in the April edition that made the following claim:

Just last week Dr. Arthur Hayall of the University of the Sierras reports that the moons of Mars are actually artificial satellites... They are truly space stations in the most elaborate sense of the word... even though the race that flung them so magnificently into orbit may be dead and gone, they still orbit as the greatest monument to intelligent accomplishment yet known to mankind.

Houston later explained that he chose the story because it was "so ludicrous it would not need to be labeled a gag." Both Dr. Hayall and the University of the Sierras were fictitious.

But soon after, the same theory was advanced by a Soviet scientist, Dr. Iosip Shklovsky, in an interview with Komsomol Pravda, a Communist youth league publication. American scientists were baffled by Shklovsky's assertion since there was no indication he was joking. Dr. Gerald Kuiper of the Yerkes Observatory was quoted as saying, "He is much too brilliant to believe such nonsense." [Jefferson City Post-Tribune, May 4, 1959.]

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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.