Great Moon Hoax

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Lithograph of supposed moon people from The Sun in 1835
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Not to be confused with the Moon landing hoax

The Great Moon Hoax, also known as the Great Moon Hoax of 1835, was a series of six articles published in The Sun,Wikipedia a New York newspaper unrelated to a much later British tabloid, about the supposed discovery of life and even a civilization on the Moon, falsely attributed to Sir John Herschel,Wikipedia one of the most famed astronomers of those times.[1] It was split into a series of six articles, that began publication in August 25, 1835.


According to such articles, Herschel had seen from the Cape of Good HopeWikipedia in South Africa using a very large telescope of new principles, which is utter Bullshit for anyone who has some knowledge of optics[note 1] animals on the Moon that included bison, goats, unicorns,[note 2] bipedal tail-less beavers and Batman bat-like winged humanoids ("Vespertilio-homo"),[2][3] supplemented in 1836 by "Vespertiliones" or the bat-men, who built temples. There were also reported to be trees, oceans and beaches. The author of the narrative was ostensibly Dr. Andrew Grant, the travelling companion and amanuensis of Sir John Herschel, who was however just a fictitious person. 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.[4]


The reporter Richard Adams Locke, who worked for The Sun in 1835, has been considered to be the author of this article claiming this in a letter in 1840 to another newspaper.[5][6] His purposes were both to boost the sales of the newspaper that he worked for with a sensational story and to ridicule some of the weirdest astronomical theories that had been published by then, such as the claims of the Bavarian astronomer Franz von Gruithuisen,Wikipedia who had claimed to have observed various shades of color on the lunar surface, correlated by him with climate and vegetation zones plus lines and geometrical shapes, which he felt indicated the existence of walls, roads, fortifications, and cities[note 3] or especially those of Reverend Thomas Dick,Wikipedia who claimed that the Solar System contained 21,891,974,404,480 (21.9 trillion) inhabitants and the Moon alone 4,200,000,000 inhabitants,[7] far more than the total world population in 1835.[8] It took several weeks to show the article was a hoax, and even then no retraction was published.[9]

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

Edgar Allan Poe,Wikipedia whose editor at the time was Richard Adams Locke, claimed the story was a plagiarism of his earlier work "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall". He would later publish "The Balloon-Hoax" in the same newspaper.[10]


In order to see such details on the Moon from Earth one would need a ludicrously huge telescope, that would dwarf any telescope built to date, even those that as noted above use several smaller ones combined to have the light-gathering capacities of a larger one.[11] Of course, as is currently known, the Moon has no water that is not locked on minerals or as ice in shadowed craters at the poles and very little atmosphere to speak of. This means no oceans or beaches, and no life — much less trees, animals, or especially lifeforms able to build things — with the only ones alive in the Moon to date having been little more than the astronauts of the Apollo program when they went to moonwalk there, and maybe some bacteriaWikipedia in an abandoned NASA lander.


  1. While there are ways to combine several small telescopes to create the light-gathering capacity of a much larger oneWikipedia the technology is far beyond what was available in 1830.
  2. No mention at all of the sighting of a dark unicorn with deep blue mane and tail, or a black-skinned elven goddess that loves to dance skyclad, however.
  3. It seems the hunt for Lunar anomalies has been a long one, even if XIX Century astronomers could be excused.


  1. Vida, István Kornél (2012). "The "Great Moon Hoax" of 1835". Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 18 (1/2): 431–441. 
  2. István Kornél Vida (2012). "The "Great Moon Hoax" of 1835". Centre for Arts, Humanities and Sciences (CAHS). p. 434. 
  3. Dave Kindy (2022). "Great Moon Hoax of 1835 convinced the world of extraterrestrial life". WashingtonPost. 
  4. Gunn, James E.; Asimov, Isaac (1975). Alternate worlds: the illustrated history of science fiction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. p. 51. ISBN 0-89104-049-8. 
  5. "They Formed A Pair". The Deseret Weekly (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News Publishing Company): p. 665. May 13, 1893. 
  6. Clute, John; Eggeling, John. "Locke, Richard Adams". 
  7. Dick, Thomas (1845). Celestial Scenery; or, The Wonders of the Planetary System Displayed: Illustrating the Perfections of Deity and a Plurality of Worlds. Philadelphia: Edward C. Biddle. pp. 276–277. Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  8. World population between 1750 and 2015, and UN projection until 2100.
  9. Falk, Doris V. "Thomas Low Nichols, Poe, and the 'Balloon Hoax'" collected in Poe Studies, vol. V, no. 2. December 1972. p. 48.
  10. ""The Great Moon Hoax" is published in the "New York Sun"". 
  11. Are there telescopes that can see the flag and lunar rover on the Moon?