GREAT ASTRONOMICAL DISCOVERIES
BY SIR JOHN HERSCHEL, L.L.D. F.R.S. &c.
At the Cape of Good Hope
[From Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science]
Perhaps the most elaborate newspaper hoax ever created, the New York Sun published a series of six articles during the last week in August of 1835. These articles proclaimed that, with the invention of a new telescope, astronomer Sir John Herschel had made discoveries unbelievable to science. Things like "a new theory of cometary phenomena" and multiple solar systems with subsidiary planets were all credited to the telescope.
However, the most important "discovery" that Sir John made came when he aimed his remarkable telescope towards the moon. On the moon's surface he saw the following things:
- Forests, water masses, and pyramids.
- Herds of bison, unicorns, and various amphibious creatures.
- A primitive tribe of hut-dwelling, beaver-like creatures.
- Civilized, winged-humans living in golden-roofed temples. Herschel would later call these winged-humans "Vespertilio-homo" or "man-bats".
Even though it was all a hoax, The Sun sold thousands of extra copies because of the articles. The people who read the articles were generally divided among two factions: those who believed what they read and those who automatically dismissed it as entertainment and nothing else. Surprisingly, however, those who believed the articles tended to be well-educated, high-society readers. There are reports of students and professors at Yale University waiting by their mail office in anticipation for the latest news on the moon.
The Sun never admitted to the hoax actually being a hoax, but they did allude to it several times. At the same time authorship was never taken for the hoax; many people credit it to Richard Adams Locke, a writer for The Sun, but that soon gave way to speculations of authorship belonging to other various people. Needless to say, no one ever knew for sure except for The Sun and they kept mum about it.