Houses on the Moon

Abraham Pether moon.

Evening Scene with Full Moon and Persons (1801) by Abraham Pether.

Snippets 74.  During the first half of the 19th Century, a few noted astronomers made observations of the moon and concluded that it might be inhabited. The most notable of these was Franz von Gruithuisen from Bavaria, who believed he had discovered a city on the moon. His findings were in fact a misinterpretation of some fishbone-pattern ridges, which had a passing resemblance to streets of houses when viewed through a telescope of the sort of magnitude that was available at the time (1824). He was far from being a crank, and was just making deductions from the available evidence. Some of his other ideas illustrate this well, such as craters being the result of meteorite strikes, which he was the first astronomer to deduce. On the other hand, he decided that there were jungles on Venus, and the Venusians were lighting fires that were visible from Earth. Gruithuisen was not alone in his views of an inhabited moon, as stated in the quote below, taken from an article in an October 1826 edition of the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal.

The Moon and its Inhabitants. — Olbers considers it as very probable that the moon is inhabited by rational creatures, and that its surface is more or less covered with a vegetation not very dissimilar to that of our own earth. Gruithuisen maintains, that he has discovered, by means of his telescope, great artificial works in the moon, erected by the Lunarians; and very lately, another observer maintains, from actual observation, that great edifices do exist in the moon. Noggerath, the geologist, does not deny the accuracy of the descriptions published by Gruithuisen, but maintains that all these appearances are owing to vast whin-dikes or trap veins rising above the general lunar surface. Gruithuisen, in a conversation with the great astronomer Gauss, after describing the regular figures he had discovered in the moon, spoke of the possibility of a correspondence with the inhabitants of the moon. He brought, he says, to Gauss’s recollection, the idea he had communicated many years ago to Zimmerman. Gauss answered, that the plan of erecting a geometrical figure on the plains of Siberia corresponded with his opinion, because, according to his view, a correspondence with the inhabitants of the moon could only be begun by means of such mathematical contemplations and ideas, which we and they must have in common. The vast circular hollows in the moon have been by some considered as evidences of volcanic action, but they differ so much in form and structure from volcanic craters, that many are now of opinion, and with reason, that they are vast circular valleys.

Heinrich Olbers was a respected astronomer who made important discoveries about the asteroid belt. Carl Gauss was a brilliant mathematician, who applied his mathematical skills to the field of astronomy. For example, when Giuseppe Piazzi discovered Ceres he lost it again after a month or so, when it passed behind the sun, and then was unable to find it again. Gauss used some advanced mathematics to calculate the orbit of the dwarf planet, predict its location and rediscover it.

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