The Great Moon Hoax

moon hoax ruby colosseum

In August, 1835 the New York Sun astounded its readers by announcing the discovery of life on the moon. For six days it elaborated on this claim in a narrative that purported to describe Sir John Herschel's telescopic observations of the moon (Sir John, it was said, had invented a new telescope that was so powerful that it allowed astronomers to view even the insect life of the moon, if they so desired).

The highlight of the New York Sun's lunar narrative was the announcement of the discovery of a species of winged "man-bats" living on the moon. To illustrate this discovery, a series of lithographic prints were produced and sold to the public. One of these prints is shown above.

According to the Library of Congress, this lithograph was copyrighted by Benjamin Day (owner of the New York Sun) in 1835. However, as the researcher David Evans pointed out in an 1981 article in Sky and Telescope, the background of the picture seems to be a view of Yosemite Valley (with Bridal Veil Falls at the right). The problem is that Yosemite Valley was only discovered by American explorers in 1851. Therefore, either the creator of this image had remarkable foresight, or the copyright date is wrong.

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