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A Year: Day to Day Men: 25th of August, Solar Year 2018

Marrakesh Delicacy

Beginning on August 25, 1835, six articles about the discovery of life on the Moon are published in the New York Sun newspaper.

The Great Moon Hoax refers to the series of articles published by the Sun, describing the discovery of life and possibly civilization on the Moon. The article was attributed to Sir John Herschel, one of the best known astronomers of that period, and written down by Dr. Andrew Grant, the personal secretary of Herschel.  The discoveries were made with an immense telescope based on an entirely new principle. Fantastic animals, including goats and bison, as well as bat-like winged humanoids were described. Ultimately, the observations were terminated with the destruction of the telescope and the observatory by the intense heat of the sun focusing through the lens of the telescope.

Authorship of the articles has been attributed to Richard Adams Locke, a reporter working for the New York Sun. Locke admitted it years later in an letter to the weekly paper “New World”. Rumors persisted that others were involved; but no evidence could be found to support that theory. Locke never gave any reasons for writing the series. His intentions were probably first to create a sensational story which would increase sales of The Sun, and, second, to ridicule some astronomical theories recently published.

In 1824, Franz von Paula Gruithuisen, Professor of Astronomy at Munich University, published a paper titled “Discovery of Many Distinct Traces of Lunar Inhabitants,  Especially of One Their Colossal Buildings”. Gruithuisen claimed to have observed color on the lunar surface, indicating climate and vegetation zones, and lines and geometric shapes, indicating the existence of walls, roads, fortifications, and cities.  Reverend Thomas Dick, minister and science teacher, wrote a book that computed the number of inhabitants of the solar system; the moon by his count would contain four billion inhabitants. Reverend Dick’s writings were very popular in the United States; Ralph Waldo Emerson was a fan of his book.

The story was not discovered to be a hoax for several weeks after its publication; even then, the New York Sun did not issue a retraction. Sir John Herschel was initially amused by the hoax, but grew annoyed when he had to answer questions by people who really believed the story was true. The Sun’s circulation increased dramatically because of the hoax and remained greater than before, establishing The Sun as a successful paper. The Great Moon Hoax is mentioned by characters in Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon”, published in 1865 by Pierre-Jules Hetzel.

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