The celestial majesty of the moon has captivated mankind’s imagination since the first stargazer lifted curious eyes to the night sky. People have developed a galaxy of theories outlining potential life forms native to our moon, but perhaps the grandest and most outlandish collection of ideas is commonly referred to as “The Great Moon Hoax.”
The date is August 25, 1835. The Sun, a newspaper based in New York City, gains worldwide attention for its article covering the otherworldly discoveries of Sir John Herschel. Herschel, a noted astronomer of his era, has recently concluded an expedition along Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and returned with exciting findings. The Sun is gracious enough to allow Dr. Andrew Grant, Herschel’s assistant, pen the article himself.
Using a telescope with an approximate lens diameter of twenty-four feet and weighing in at over 14,000 pounds, Herschel was able to clearly observe objects on the surface of the moon as minute as a 1.5 feet in size. The duo often relies on the Edinburgh Journal of Science to substantiate their story. Through the lens of his unusually powerful telescope, Herschel is awed by a lush lunar landscape, according to Grant’s written report. The moon boasts pristine, white beaches with delicate tufts of flora. Giant crystals festoon the picturesque vista, and mighty rivers irrigate vast swaths of vegetation.
The floral beauty of the moon is rivaled only by the satellite’s life forms. Grant relays the discovery of bison-like animals frolicking in lunar forests, and goats with a single unicorn’s horn proved plentiful during the scientists’ observation period. Grant then describes in painstaking detail the existence of a two-legged beaver; this odd animal walks upright in a human fashion and cradles its young in its arms much like earthly parents. The article additionally fascinates readers with regalements of other alien beings, but the strangest account features the Vespertilio-homo, a creature also known as the man-bat. Grant, by virtue of Herschel’s discovery, claims these humanoids to be approximately four feet tall. Vespertilio-homo possess human features complimented by the large, membranous wings of a bat.
Earth reels at the magnitude of Herschel’s narrative, and The Sun’s incredible headline is adapted to a multitude of languages and cultures. However, the truth is soon uncovered that the entire tale is nothing more than an attempt to garner more patrons for a struggling newspaper. Dr. Grant is found to be a fictional narrator cleverly employed by a Sun reporter while intrepid cynics discover that the Edinburgh Journal of Science is currently out of circulation, an unlikely source of such astronomical information.
These revelations fail to thwart the curiosity of The Sun’s readers. Following the exposure of the Great Moon Hoax, many people continue to support the supposed science behind Herschel’s grandiose gatherings. Letters pour in from all corners of the globe, and even a group of scientists from Yale University make a pilgrimage to the Big Apple in search of the lost Edinburgh Journal of Science articles. Although Herschel’s story may have been the product of a vivid imagination, the human spirit is rarely hampered by boundaries, always searching for new horizons in both our world and others.