How the Sun Discovered Life on the Moon
i
Life on the Moon – print from the Smithsonian Institution Libraries collection
Outer Space

How the Sun Discovered Life on the Moon

Fake News in the Era of the Printing Press
Katarzyna Sroczyńska
Reading
time 16 minutes

The exceptional pace of new scientific discoveries and ever-faster internet* connections have begun to create confusion in people’s heads. As on 21st August 1835, when a certain New York newspaper reported the following…

On 10th January 1835, at precisely 9.30am, Sir John Herschel aimed his gigantic telescope towards the Moon. For months, the astronomer had been conducting research from the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. He had travelled there to complete a great scientific project begun by his father. William Herschel, an astronomer and builder of telescopes who had observed and described the skies visible from the Northern Hemisphere. He had broadened the boundaries of the solar system by discovering the planet Uranus. His son John continued his work, observing the heavens from the Southern Hemisphere.

On that memorable day, the scientist’s eye, armed with the lenses of his telescope, came to rest on something that looked like a beautiful basalt cliff, recalling those on the Scottish island of Staffa. The astonished scientist must have blinked; the telescope shifted a bit, and it turned out that right next to it a field of dark red flowers was growing! A field of poppies!

So there was life on the Moon! The question was: just plants, or also animal life? Herschel and his colleagues didn’t have to wait long for the answer. They spied a herd of four-legged animals that resembled bison; a single-horned goat in a bluish, leaden shade; strange round creatures, which raced at great speed over the stony beaches; birds hunting for fish. The researchers counted dozens of species of trees, almost 100 other plants and nine species of mammals. Such

Information

You’ve reached your free article’s limit this month. You can get unlimited access to all our articles and audio content with our digital subscription. If you have an active subscription, please log in.

Subscribe

Also read:

Written in Sunlight
i
Collection C.H. Florence – Leila et Silvia Florence/Jorge Bastos/motivo, São Paulo
Art

Written in Sunlight

The Curious Life of Hércules Florence
Katarzyna Sroczyńska

He invented photography before Daguerre. He travelled across the Amazon jungle, found a way to document the songs of birds without audio recording, and reproduced political pamphlets without the aid of a printing press. And yet, he was forgotten by the world for over a century.

“I am certain that printing using sunlight will be possible in the future,” Florence noted on 15th January 1833. The French inventor was in his late twenties. He was sitting at his desk in a picturesque Brazilian fazenda in São Carlos, a small town with a population of several thousand, 96 kilometres north of São Paulo. The summer was in full bloom. It was a time when many Europeans were trying to capture the light of the sun on paper, among them the painter Louis Jacques Daguerre. How come everyone knows Daguerre’s name and almost nobody has heard of Hércules Florence, even though he was the first to harness the sunlight? It was the surrealist artist André Breton who wrote that: “The greatest weakness of contemporary thought seems to lie in the extravagant overstatement of the known versus what is left to know.” Hércules Florence would probably agree.

Continue reading