On 25 August, 1835, The Sun newspaper printed a series of hoax articles claiming they’d found life on the moon including man-bats, two legged beavers and ball beasts. On this week’s episode of the podcast, Matthew Goodman, author of The Sun and The Moon talks about the hoax and its place in the history of journalism and astronomy.
The Sun claimed in the article that famed astronomer Sir John Herschel had created a revolutionary telescope that could see the surface of the moon.
There, The Sun went on, he had seen libascious man-bats mating in rolling fields while bipedal beavers grazed behind them. Abandoned temples of polished sapphire gleamed in the sun and strange spherical beasts rolled across pebbly beaches.
Written by journalist Richard Adam Locke for the fledging paper as a satire of the ridiculous claims made by religious leaders, the great moon hoax was never meant to be believed.
Instead, Locke was sending up real life ‘astronomers’ such as Thomas Dick who claimed that since God would not create planets without life on them to enjoy it, there must be 2.1 trillion inhabitants in our solar system.
The public not only believed the stories, they lapped them up. Circulation of the working class penny paper skyrocketed and the more reputable established papers began reprinting The Sun’s claims.
Not much has changed, sensational stories still sell better than the truth and the public still confuses satire for reality.
Nicholas J. Johnson is a Melbourne magician, author, entertainer and collector of scams.