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Today in History: The Great Moon Hoax
On this day in 1835, the first in a series of six articles announcing the supposed discovery of life on the moon appeared in the New York Sun newspaper.
Known collectively as “The Great Moon Hoax,” the articles were supposedly reprinted from the Edinburgh Journal of Science. Sir John Herschel, a famous astronomer of the day, was said to have set up an observatory with a powerful new telescope in Capetown, South Africa in January 1834 through which he had found evidence of life forms on the moon, including such fantastic animals as unicorns, two-legged beavers and furry, winged humanoids resembling bats. The articles also offered a vivid description of the moon’s geography, complete with massive craters, enormous amethyst crystals, rushing rivers, and lush vegetation. The NY Sun was one of the new “penny press” papers that appealed to a wider audience with a cheaper price and a more narrative style of journalism. From the day the first moon hoax article was released, sales of the paper shot up considerably. The only problem was that none of it was true. Intended as satire, the articles were designed to poke fun at earlier, serious speculations about extraterrestrial life. Readers, however, failed to recognize it as satire. The craze over Herschel’s supposed discoveries even fooled a committee of Yale University scientists, who traveled to New York in search of the Edinburgh Journal articles. On September 16, 1835, the Sun admitted the articles had been a hoax. People were generally amused by the whole thing, and sales of the paper didn’t suffer. Source: history.com
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