Is the

A Survey of Informed Thinking On this Subject in the Nineteenth Century By Ronnie Bray

Is the Moon Inhabited
By Ronnie Bray

Let me divulge right from the start that I do not believe the moon is inhabited. I never had, even when I was introduced as a child to ‘the man in the moon,’ I was not a believer and more than I believed that ‘the cow jumped over the moon.’ However, many other people do believe or have believed that the moon was an inhabited planet, and this article sets out of discover who they were and why they believed that. It is true that during the course of human history, people have believed things that today seem strange, bizarre, even crazy, but all people need to believe something is some thing or other that serves as evidence, or else lack of evidence that it could be otherwise. The question of whether the moon is inhabited has occupied the minds of men across centuries, and countless words have been expended both for an against the view that it either is or is not. Robert Hooke, in the seventeenth century, thought that he could construct a telescope with which we might discern the inhabitants of the moon life-size-seeing them as plainly as we see the inhabitants of the earth. But, alas! the sanguine mathematician died in his sleep, and his dream has not yet come true.

Since Hooke's day gigantic instruments have been fitted up, furnished with all the modern improvements which could be supplied through the genius or generosity of such astronomers as Joseph Fraunhofer and Sir William Herschel, the third Earl of Rosse and the fourth Duke of Northumberland. But all of these worthy men left something to be done by their successors. Consequently, not long since, our scientists set to work to increase their artificial eyesight. The Rev. Mr. Webb tells us that "the first 'Moon Committee' of the British Association recommended a power of 1,000." But he discourages us if we anticipate large returns; for he adds: "Few indeed are the instruments or the nights that will bear it; but when employed, what will be the result? Since increase of magnifying is equivalent to decrease of distance, we shall see the moon as large (though not as distinct) as if it were 240 miles off, and any one can judge what could be made of the grandest building upon earth at that distance."1 If therefore we are to see the settlement of the matter in the speculum of a telescope, it may be some time before we have done with what Guillemin calls "the interesting, almost insoluble question, of the existence of living and


Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes, by the Rev. T. W. Webb, M.A., F.R.A.S. London, 1873, p. 58

organized beings on the surface of the satellite of our little earth."2 Harley reminds us that things that are not seen may yet exist. Four hundred years ago all Europe believed that to sail in search of a western continent was to wish "to see what is not to be seen"; but a certain Christopher Columbus went out persuaded of things not seen as yet, and having embarked in faith he landed in sight. The lesson must not be lost upon us.3 Because we cannot now make out either habitations or habitants on the moon, it does not necessarily follow that the night will never come when, through some mightier medium than any ever yet constructed or conceived, we shall descry, beside mountains and valleys, also peopled plains and populous cities animating the fair features of this beautiful orb. One valuable auxiliary of the telescope, destined to play an important part in lunar discovery, must not be overlooked.4 Mr. Norman Lockyer says, "With reference to the moon, if we wish to map her correctly, it is now no longer necessary to depend on ordinary eye observations alone; it is perfectly clear that
2 3

The Heavens, by Amédée Guillemin. London, 1876, p. 144 Moon Lore, by Timothy Harley, 1885 4 Harley, Op. Cit.

by means of an image of the moon, taken by photography, we are able to fix many points on the lunar surface."5 With telescopic and photographic lenses in skilled hands, and a wealth of inventive genius in fertile brains, we can afford to wait a long while before we close the debate with a final negative. In the meantime, continues Harley, eyes and glasses giving us no satisfaction, we turn to scientific induction. Speculation is a kind of mental mirror, that before now has anticipated or supplemented the visions of sense. Not being practical astronomers ourselves, we have to follow the counsel of that unknown authority who bids us believe the expert. But expertness being the fruit of experience, we may be puzzled to tell who have attained that rank. We will inquire, however, with due docility, of the oracles of scientific research. It is agreed on all sides that to render the moon habitable by beings at all akin with our own kind, there must be within or upon that body an atmosphere, water, changing seasons, and the alternations of day and night. We know that changes occur in the moon, from cold to heat, and from darkness to light. But the lunar day is as long as 291 of ours; so that each portion of the surface is exposed to, or turned from, the sun for nearly 14 days. This long exposure produces excessive heat, and the long darkness excessive cold. Such extremities of temperature are unfavourable to the existence of beings at all like those

Stargazing, by J. Norman Lockyer, F.R.S. London, 1878, p. 476

living upon the earth, especially if the moon be without water and atmosphere. As these two desiderata seem indispensable to lunar inhabitation, we may chiefly consider the question, Do these conditions exist? If so, inductive reasoning will lead us to the inference, which subsequent experience will strengthen, that the moon is inhabited like its superior planet. But if not, life on the satellite similar to life on the earth, is altogether improbable, if not absolutely impossible.6 La Place writes: "The lunar atmosphere, if any such exists, is of an extreme rarity, greater even than that which can be produced on the surface of the earth by the best constructed air-pumps. It may be inferred from this that no terrestrial animal could live or respire at the surface of the moon, and that if the moon be inhabited, it must be by animals of another species."7 Should we then wonder that a person speculates that it is inhabited before we have become certain that it is not? Isn’t it normal for people to express opinions that might prove to be incorrect when science overtakes our imagination at last? I opine that it most certainly is, and history shows it to be so!

6 7

Harley, Op. Cit. p. 234 The System of the World, by M. le Marquis de La Place. Dublin, 1830, i. 42

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