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The Great Moon Hoax of 1835 (text)
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Day Six: Monday, August 31, 1835
Lately Made
At The Cape of Good Hope.
[From Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science]

"But we had far not to seek for inhabitants of this `Vale of the Triads.' Immediately on the outer border of the wood which surrounded, at a distance of half a mile, the eminence on which the first of these temples stood, we saw several detached assemblies of beings whom we instantly recognized to be of the same species as our winged friends of the Ruby Colosseum near the lake Langrenus. Having adjusted the instrument for a minute examination, we found that nearly all the individuals in these groups were of larger stature than the former specimens, less dark in color, and in every respect an improved variety of the race. They were chiefly engaged in eating a large yellow fruit like a gourd, sections of which they divided with their fingers, and ate with rather uncouth voracity, throwing away the rind. A smaller red fruit, shaped like a cucumber, which we had often seen pendant from trees having a broad dark leaf, was also lying in heaps in the centre of several of the festive groups; but the only use they appeared to make of it was sucking its juice, after rolling it between the palms of their hands and nibbling off an end. They seemed eminently happy, and even polite, for we saw, in many instances, individuals sitting nearest these piles of fruit, select the largest and brightest specimens, and throw them archwise across the circle to some opposite friend or associate who extracted the nutriment from those scattered around him, and which were frequently not a few. While thus engaged in their rural banquets, or in social converse, they were always seated with their knees flat upon the turf, and their feet brought evenly together in the form of a triangle. And for some mysterious reason or other this figure seemed to be an especial favorite among them; for we found that every group or social circle arranged itself in this shaped before it dispersed, which was generally done at the signal of an individual who stepped into the centre and brought his hands over his head in an acute angle. At this signal each member of the company extended his arms forward so as to form an acute angle horizontal angle with the extremity of the fingers. But this was not the only proof we had that they were creatures of order and subordination. * * * * We had no opportunity of seeing them actually engaged in any work of industry or art; and so far as we could judge, they spent their happy hours in collecting various fruits in the woods, in eating, flying, bathing, and loitering about on the summits of precipices. * * * * But although evidently the highest order of animals in this rich valley, they were not its only occupants. Most of the other animals which we had discovered elsewhere, in very distant regions, were collected here; and also at least eight or nine new species of quadrupeds. The most attractive of these was a tall white stag with lofty spreading antlers, black as ebony. We several times saw this elegant creature trot up to the seated parties od the semi-human beings I have described, and browse the herbage close beside them, without the least manifestation of fear on his part or notice on their. The universal state of amity among all classes of lunar creatures, and the apparent absence of every carnivorous or ferocious creatures, gave us the most refined pleasure, and doubly endeared to us this lovely nocturnal companion of our larger, but less favored world. Ever again when `eye the blue vault and bless the useful light,' shall I recall the scenes of beauty, grandeur and felicity, I have beheld upon her surface, not `as through a glass darkly, but face to face;' and never shall I think of that line of our thrice noble poet:—
___________________ "Meek Diana's crest
"Sails through the azure air an island of the blest,"
without exulting in my knowledge of its truth."

With the careful examination of this instructive valley, and a scientific classification of its animal, vegetable, and mineral productions, the astronomers closed their labors for the night; labors rather mental than physical, and oppressive, from the extreme excitement which they naturally induced. A singular circumstance occurred the next day, which three the telescope quite out of use for nearly a week, by which time the moon could be no longer observed that month. The great lens, which was usually lowered during the day, and placed horizontally, had, it is true, been lowered as usual, but had been inconsiderately left in a perpendicular position. Accordingly, shortly after sunrise the next morning, Dr. Herschel and his assistants, Dr. Grant and Messrs. Drummond and Home, who slept in a bungalow erected a short distance from the observatory circle, were awakened by the loud shouts of some Dutch farmers and domesticated Hottentotts (who were passing with their oxen to agricultural labor), that the "big house" was on fire! Dr. Herschel leaped out of bed from his brief slumbers, and, sure enough, saw his observatory enveloped in a cloud of smoke. Luckily it had been thickly covered, within and without, with a coat of Romanplaster, or it would inevitably have been destroyed will all its invaluable contents; but, as it was, a hole fifteen feet in circumference had been burnt completely though the "reflecting chamber," which was attached to the side of the observatory nearest the lens, through the canvass field on which had been exhibited so many wonders that will ever live in the history of mankind, and through the outer wall. So fierce was the concentration of the solat reyas through the gigantic lense, that a clump of trees standing in a line with them was set on fire, and the plaster of the observatory walls, all round the oriface, was vitrified to blue glass. The lens being almost immediately turned, and a brook of water being within a few hundred yards, the first was soon extinguished, but the damage already done was not inconsiderable. The microscope lenses had fortunately been removed for the purpose of being cleaned, but several of the metallic reflectors were so fused as to be rendered useless. Masons and carpenters were procured from Cape Town with all possible dispatch, and in about a week the whole apparatus was again prepared for operation.

The moon being now invisible Dr. Herschel directed his inquiries to the primary planets of the system, and first to the planet Saturn. We need not say that this remarkable globe has for many ages been an object of the most ardent astronomical curiosity. The stupendous phenomenon of its double ring having baffled the scrutiny and conjecture of many generations of astronomers, was finally abandoned as inexplicable. It is well known that this planet is stationed in the system 900 millions of miles distant from the sun,a nd that having the immense diameter of 79,000 miles, it is more than nine hundred times larger than earth. The annual motion round the sun os not accomplished in less that twenty-nine and a half of our years, whilst its diurnal rotation upon its axis is accomplished in 10h. 16m., or considerably less than half a terrestrial day. It has not less than seven moons, the sixth and seventh of which were discovered by the elder Herschel in 1759. It is thwarted by mysterious belts or bands of yellowish tinge, and is surrounded by a double ring -- the outer one of which is 204,000 miles in diameter. The outside diameter of the inner ring is 184,000 miles, and the breadth of the outer one being 7,200 miles, the space between them is 28,000 miles. The breadth of the inner ring is much greater than that of the other, being 20,000 miles; and its distance from the body of Saturn is more than 30,000. These rings are opaque, but so thin that their edge has not until now been discovered. Sir John Herschel's most interesting discovery with regard to this planet is the demonstrated fact that these two rings are composed of the fragments of two destroyed worlds, formerly belonging to our solar system, and which, on being exploded, were gathered around the immense body of Saturn by the attraction of gravity, and yet kept from falling to its surface by the great centrifugal force created by its extraordinary rapidity on its axis. The inner ring was therefore the first of these destroyed worlds (the former station of which in the system is demonstrated in the argument which we subjoin), which was accordingly carried round by the rotary force, and spread forth in the manner we see. The outer ring is another world exploded in fragments, attracted by the law of gravity as in the former case, and kept from uniting with the inner ring by the centrifugal force of the latter. But the latter, having a slower rotation than the planet, has an inferior centrifugal force, and accordingly the space between the outer and inner ring is ten times less than between the inner ring and the body of Saturn. Having ascertained the mean density of the rings, as compared with the density of the planet, Sir John Herschel has been enabled to effect the following beautiful demonstration. [Which we omit, as too mathematical for popular comprehension. — Ed. Sun.]

Dr. Herschel clearly ascertained that these rings are composed of rocky strata, the skeletons of former globes, lying is a state of wild and ghastly confusion, but not devoid of mountains and seas. * * * * The belts across the body of Saturn he has discovered to be the smoke of a number of intense volcanoes, carried in these straight lines by the extreme velocity of the rotary motion. * * * * [And these also he has ascertained to be the belt of Jupiter. -- But the portion of the work which is devoted to this subject, and to the other planets, as also that which describes the astronomer's discoveries among the stars, is comparatively uninteresting to general readers, however highly it might interest others of scientific taste and mathematical acquirements. — Ed. Sun.]

* * * * "It was not until the new moon of the month of March, that the weather proved favorable to any continued series of lunar observations; and Dr. Herschel had been so enthusiastically absorbed in demonstrating his brilliant discoveries in the southern constellations, and in constructing tables and catalogues of his new stars, to avail himself of the few clear nights which intervened.

"On one of these, however, Mr. Drummond, myself, and Mr. Holmes, made these discoveries near the Bay of Rainbows, to which I have somewhere briefly alluded. This bay thus fancifully denominated is a part of the northern boundary of the first great ocean which I have lately described, and is marked on the chart with the letter O. The tract of country which we explored on this occasion is numbered 6,5,8,7, in the catalogue, and the chief mountains to which these numbers are attached are severally named Atlas, Hercules, Heraclides Verus, and Heraclides Falsus. Still farther to the north of these os the island circle called Pythagoras, and numbered 1; and yet nearer the meridian line is the mountainous district marked R, and called the Land of Drought, and Q, the Land of Hoar Frost; and certainly the name of the latter, however theoretically bestowed, was not altogether inapplicable, for the tops of its very lofty mountains were evidently covered with snow, though the valleys surrounding them were teeming with the luxuriant fertility of midsummer. But the region which we first particularly inspected was that of Heraclides Falsus (No. 7), in which we found several new specimens of animals, all of which were horned and of a white or grey color, and the remains of three ancient triangular temples which had long been in ruins. We thence traversed the country southeastward, until we arrived at Atlas (No. 6), and it was one of the noble valleys at the foot of this mountain that we found the very superior species of the Vespertilio-homo. In stature they did not exceed those last described, but they were of infinitely greater personal beauty, and appeared in our eyes scarcely less lovely than the general representations of angels by the more imaginative schools of painters. Their social economy seemed to be regulated by laws or ceremonies exactly like those prevailing in the Vale of the Triads, but their works of art were more numerous, and displayed a proficiency of skill quite incredible to all except actual observers. I shall, therefore, let the first detailed account of them appear in Dr. Herschel's authenticated natural history of this planet."

[This concludes the Supplement, with the exception of forty pages of illustrative and mathematical notes, which would greatly enhance the size and cost of this work, without commeasurably adding to its general interest. — Ed. Sun.]

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