As I said on Wednesday, I’ve decided to make all the Fun Science Facts in October examples of scientific hoaxes as well. The first one is one you’ve probably never heard of—The Great Moon Hoax of 1835. In August of 1835, a series of six articles was published over a week’s time, in New York’s The Sun newspaper, detailing the discoveries of astronomer Sir John Herschel.
The articles claimed he used a high-powered telescope to find the first signs of life on the moon. And not just small signs of life either. Supposedly, he found colonies of creatures living together, including man-bats, biped beavers and bluish goat-like creatures. The creatures had made a structure, which the articles called the Sapphire Temple.
Sir John Herschel was in South Africa at the time and had no idea what was being perpetrated in his name. When he first heard, he laughed, having no doubt assumed the public would not be taken in by this sham. Unfortunately, he was wrong. The Moon Hoax was believed to be genuine by a great many people. It soon became infamous, even after being proved a hoax.
Sir Herschel was an innocent victim of the press, more specifically Richard Adams Locke, the newspaper reporter who started the hoax. He eventually said the hoax was meant as a satire (although he claimed it to be truth for years). His intended target for the satire was the unchecked influence of religion in science, which he felt should be entirely separate.
Do you think we’re more enlightened here in the 21st century and would never fall prey to a hoax like this? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. For most of us, it’s way too easy for us to accept the word of someone with a PhD rather than take the time to investigate for ourselves.Photo Credit: ID 26713155 © Mikhail Kusayev | Dreamstime.com