Beavers on the Moon astronomy hoax

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Beavers on the Moon astronomy hoax
1836 the-great-moon-hoax-new-inhabitants-of-the-moon.png
Year 1835
Dates 08/25-29
Places New York & South Africa
Perps The New York Sun
John Herschel
Hoax Busters Call [HB 1][HB 2]
Other [1][MSM 1]

The Beavers on the Moon astronomy hoax was a deliberate hoax, a forgery of so-called scientific discoveries, published in the newspaper The New York Sun, founded in 1833 with as purpose to sell more copies of the newspaper. It was a story accompanied by drawings published in the newspaper from August 25 to August 29, 1835. The so-called discoveries were bipedal beavers, bat-men and other creatures on the surface of the Moon, allegedly discovered and published in the Edinburgh Journal of Science by famous astronomer John Herschel from South Africa.

Picture above: Portrait of a man-bat (Vespertilio-homo), from an edition of the moon series published in Naples.

The story

On August 25, 1835, readers who stopped in front of the bellowing newsboys and produced a penny for a copy of New York's Sun received a lot to take in. Three-quarters of the front page were devoted to what the newspaper claimed was an excerpt from the credible-sounding Edinburgh Journal of Science. In deepest South Africa, a renowned astronomer named John Herschel had made a fantastic discovery.

There was life on the moon. A lot of it. Plants. Beavers that stood on their hind legs. One-horned goats. And bat-people.

Over the following five days, readers were transfixed by a breathless account of Herschel’s peerless (but not peer-reviewed) examination of the moon’s populated surface, using a seven-ton telescope that he had recently constructed. Sweeping his gaze across the lunar environment, Herschel took note of colorful flowers, soul-enriching temples, and humanoids who could fly.

While it seemed too spectacular to be true, Herschel was a real scientist, and a well-respected one; he had previously been quoted pondering life on the moon. He was also known to be in South Africa. The Edinburgh Journal of Science was legitimate, too. Who was anyone to call him a liar?

This "stupendous discovery," as the paper dubbed it, was to be celebrated. And if discovering life on the moon wasn’t enough, Herschel had also "solved or corrected nearly every leading problem of mathematical astronomy."

The reports captivated the city, spreading to other papers and inviting discussion over their plausibility. Who were these bipedal beavers and moon people? And had they found religion?[1]


The "Great Moon Hoax" refers to a series of six articles that were published in The Sun, a New York newspaper, beginning on August 25, 1835, about the supposed discovery of life and even civilization on the Moon. The discoveries were falsely attributed to Sir John Herschel, one of the best-known contemporary astronomers of that time.

The story was advertised on August 21, 1835, as an upcoming feature allegedly reprinted from The Edinburgh Courant. The first in a series of six was published four days later on August 25.

The articles described fantastic animals on the Moon, including bison, goats, unicorns, bipedal tail-less beavers and bat-like winged humanoids ("Vespertilio-homo") who built temples. There were trees, oceans and beaches. These discoveries were supposedly made with "an immense telescope of an entirely new principle."

The author of the narrative was ostensibly Dr. Andrew Grant, the travelling companion and amanuensis of Sir John Herschel, but Grant was fictitious.

Eventually, the authors announced that the observations had been terminated by the destruction of the telescope, by means of the Sun causing the lens to act as a "burning glass," setting fire to the observatory.

According to legend, The Sun's circulation increased dramatically because of the hoax and remained permanently greater than before, thereby establishing The Sun as a successful paper. However, the degree to which the hoax increased the paper's circulation has certainly been exaggerated in popular accounts of the event. It was not discovered to be a hoax for several weeks after its publication and, even then, the newspaper did not issue a retraction.

Herschel was initially amused by the hoax, noting that his own real observations could never be as exciting. He became annoyed later when he had to answer questions from people who believed the hoax was serious.

Edgar Allan Poe claimed the story was a plagiarism of his earlier work The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall. His editor at the time was Richard Adams Locke. He later published "The Balloon-Hoax" in the same newspaper.

Poe had published his own Moon hoax in late June 1835, two months before the similar Locke Moon hoax, in the Southern Literary Messenger entitled "Hans Phaall – A Tale," later republished as "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall." The story was reprinted in the New York Transcript on September 2–5, 1835, under the headline "Lunar Discoveries, Extraordinary Aerial Voyage by Baron Hans Pfaall." Poe described a voyage to the Moon in a hot-air balloon, in which Pfaall lives for five years on the Moon with lunarians and sends back a lunarian to earth. The Poe Moon hoax was less successful because of the satiric and comical tone of the account. Locke was able to upstage Poe and to steal his thunder. In 1846, Poe would write a biographical sketch of Locke as part of his series "The Literati of New York City" which appeared in Godey's Lady's Book.

The hoax, as well as Poe's "Hans Pfaall", are mentioned by characters in Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon.[MSM 1]


This proven hoax has been analyzed by Chris Kendall on the Hoax Busters Call of July 23, 2013, where he said "over the top naughty hoax, why not push it completely over the edge".[HB 1][HB 2]


See also


Hoaxbusters Call