The Moon

It is the delightful hour when all Nature pauses in the tranquil calm of the silent night.

The Sun has cast his farewell gleams upon the weary Earth. All sound is hushed. And soon the stars will shine out one by one in the bosom of the somber firmament. Opposite to the sunset, in the east, the Full Moon rises slowly, as it were calling our thoughts toward the mysteries of eternity, while her limpid night spreads over space like a dew from Heaven.

n the odorous woods, the trees are silhouetted strangely upon the sky, seeming to stretch their knotted arms toward this celestial beauty. On the river, smooth as a mirror, wherein the pale Phœbe reflects her splendor, the maidens go to seek the floating image of their future spouse. And in response to their prayers, she rends the veil of cloud that hides her from their eyes, and pours the reflection of her gentle beams upon the sleeping waters.

From all time the Moon has had the privilege of charming the gaze, and attracting the particular attention of mortals. What thoughts have not been wafted to her pale, yet luminous disk? Orb of mystery and of solitude, brooding over our silent nights, this celestial luminary is at once sad and splendid in her glacial purity, and her limpid rays provoke a reverie full of charm and melancholy. Mute witness of terrestrial destinies, her nocturnal flame watches over our planet, following it in its course as a faithful satellite.

The human eye first uplifted to the Heavens was struck, above all, with the brilliancy of this solitary globe, straying among the stars. The Moon first suggested an easy division of time into months and weeks, and the first astronomical observations were limited to the study of her phases.

Daughter of the Earth, the Moon was born at the limits of the terrestrial nebula, when our world was still no more than a vast gaseous sphere, and was detached from her at some critical period of colossal solar tide. Separating with regret from her cradle, but attached to the Earth by indissoluble ties of attraction, she rotates round us in a month, from west to east, and this movement keeps her back a little each day in relation to the stars. If we watch, evening by evening, beginning from the new moon, we shall observe that she is each night a little farther to the left, or east, than on the preceding evening. This revolution of the Moon around our planet produces the phases, and gives the measure of our months.

Fig. 64.—The Full Moon slowly rises. Fig. 64.—The Full Moon slowly rises.

During her monthly journey she always presents the same face to us. One might think that the fear of losing us had immobilized her globe, and prevented her from turning. And so we only know of her the vague sketch of a human face that has been observed through all the ages.

It seems, in fact, as though she were looking down upon us from the Heavens, the more so as the principal spots of her disk vaguely recall the aspect of a face. If we try to draw it without the aid of instruments we observe dark regions and clear regions that each interprets in his own fashion. To the author, for instance, the full Moon has the appearance represented in the following figure. The spots resemble two eyes and the sketch of a nose; resulting in a vague human figure, as indicated on the lower disk. Others see a man carrying a bundle of wood, a hare, a lion, a dog, a kangaroo, a sickle, two heads embracing, etc. But generally speaking, there is a tendency to see a human figure in it.

If this appearance is helped a little by drawing, it gives the profile of a man's head fairly well sketched, and furnished with an abundant crop of hair (Fig. 66). Others go much more into detail, and draw a woman's head that is certainly too definite, like this of M. Jean Sardou (Fig. 67). Others, again, like M. Zamboni, see behind the man's profile the likeness of a young girl being embraced by him (Fig. 68). There is certainly some imagination about these. And yet, on the first suitable occasion, look at the Moon through an opera-glass, a few days after the first quarter, and you will not fail to see the masculine profile just described, and even to imagine the "kiss in the Moon."

Fig. 65.—The Moon viewed with the unaided eye. Fig. 65.—The Moon viewed with the unaided eye.

Fig. 66.—The Man's head in the Moon. Fig. 66.—The Man's head in the Moon.

These vague aspects disappear as soon as the Moon is examined with even the least powerful instruments: the spots are better defined, and the illusions of indistinct vision vanish. Compare this direct photograph of the Moon, taken by the author some years ago (Fig. 69): here is neither a human figure, man, dog, hare, nor faggot; simply deep geographical configurations, and in the lower region, a luminous point whence certain light bands spread out, some being prolonged to a considerable distance. And yet, from a little way off, does it not form the man's face above indicated?

Fig. 67.—Woman's head in the Moon. Fig. 67.—Woman's head in the Moon.

From the earliest astronomical observations made with the aid of instruments by Galileo, in 1609, people tried to find out what the dark spots could represent, and they were called seas, because water absorbs light, and reflects it less than terra firma. The Moon of itself possesses no intrinsic light, any more than our planet, and only shines by the light of the Sun that illuminates it. As it rotates round the Earth, and constantly changes its position with respect to the Sun, we see more or less of its illuminated hemisphere, and the result is the phases that every one knows so well.

Fig. 68.—The kiss in the Moon. Fig. 68.—The kiss in the Moon.

Fig. 69.—Photograph of the Moon. Fig. 69.—Photograph of the Moon.

At the commencement of each lunation, the Moon is between the Sun and the Earth, and its non-illuminated hemisphere is turned toward us. This is the New Moon, invisible to us; but two days later, the slim crescent of Diana sheds a gentle radiance upon the Earth. Gradually the crescent enlarges. When the Moon arrives at right angles with ourselves and with the Sun, half the illuminated hemisphere is presented to us. This is the first quarter. At the time of Full Moon, it is opposite the Sun, and we see the whole of the hemisphere illuminated. Then comes the decline: the brilliant disk is slightly corroded at first; it diminishes from day to day, and about a week before the New Moon our fair friend only shows her profile before she once more passes in front of the Sun: this is the last quarter.

Fig. 70.—The Moon's Phases. Fig. 70.—The Moon's Phases.

When the Moon is crescent, in the first evenings of the lunation, and after the last quarter, the rest of the disk is visible, illuminated feebly by a pale luminosity. This is known as the ashy light. It is due to the shine of the Earth, reflecting the light received from the Sun into space. Accordingly the ashy light is the reflection of our own sent back to us by the Moon. It is the reflection of a reflection.

This rotation of the Moon round the Earth is accomplished in twenty-seven days, seven hours, forty-three minutes, eleven seconds; but as the Earth is simultaneously revolving round the Sun, when the Moon returns to the same point (the Earth having become displaced relatively to the Sun), the Moon has to travel two days longer to recover its position between the Sun and the Earth, so that the lunar month is longer than the sidereal revolution of the Moon, and takes twenty-nine days, twelve hours, forty-four minutes, three seconds. This is the duration of the sequence of phases.

This revolution is accomplished at a distance of 384,000 kilometers (238,000 miles). The velocity of the Moon in its orbit is more than 1 kilometer (0.6214 mile) per second. But our planet sweeps it through space at a velocity almost thirty times greater.

The diameter of the Moon represents 273⁄1,000 that of the Earth, i.e., 3,480 kilometers (2,157 miles).

Its surface = 38,000,000 square kilometers (15,000,000 square miles), a little more than the thirteenth part of the terrestrial surface, which = 510,000,000 (200,000,000 square miles).

In volume, the Moon is fifty times less than the Earth. Its mass or weight is only 1⁄81 that of the terrestrial globe. Its density = 0.615, relatively to that of the Earth, i.e., a little more than three times that of water. Weight at its surface is very little: 0.174. A kilogram transported thither would only weigh 174 grams.

At the meager distance of 384,000 kilometers (238,000 miles) that separates us from it (about thirty times the diameter of the Earth), the Moon is a suburb of our terrestrial habitation. What does this small distance amount to? It is a mere step in the universe.

A telegraphic message would get there in one and a half second; a projectile fired from a gun would arrive in eight days, five hours; an express-train would be due in eight months, twenty-two days. It is only the 1⁄388 part of the distance that separates us from the Sun, and only the 100⁄1,000,000 part of the distance of the stars nearest to us. Many men have tramped the distance that separates us from the Moon. A bridge of thirty terrestrial globes would suffice to unite the two worlds.

Owing to this great proximity, the Moon is the best known of all the celestial spheres. Its geographical (or more correctly, selenographical, Selene, moon) map was drawn out more than two centuries ago, at first in a vague sketch, and afterward with more details, until to-day it is as precise and accurate as any of our terrestrial maps of geography.

Before the invention of the telescope, from antiquity to the seventeenth century, people lost themselves in conjectures as to the nature of this strange lunar figure. It was held to be a mysterious world, the more extraordinary in that it always presented the same face to us. Some compared it to an immense mirror reflecting the image of the Earth. Others pictured it as a silver star, an enchanted abode where all was wealth and happiness. For many a long day it was the fashion to think, quite irrationally, that the inhabitants of the Moon were fifteen times bigger than ourselves.

The invention of telescopes, however, brought a little order and a grain of truth into these fantastic assumptions. The first observations of Galileo revolutionized science, and his discoveries filled the best-ordered minds with enthusiasm. Thenceforward, the Moon became our property, a terrestrial suburb, where the whole world would gladly have installed itself, had the means of getting there been as swift as the wings of the imagination. It became easy enough to invent a thousand enchanting descriptions of the charms of our fair sister, and no one scrupled to do so. Soon, it was observed that the Moon closely resembled the Earth in its geological features; its surface bristles with sharp mountain peaks that light up in so many luminous points beneath the rays of the Sun. Alongside, dark and shaded parts indicate the plains; moreover, there are large gray patches that were supposed to be seas because they reflect the solar light less perfectly than the adjacent countries. At that epoch hardly anything was known of the physical constitution of the Moon, and it was figured as enveloped with an atmospheric layer, analogous to that at the bottom of which we carry on our respiration.

To-day we know that these "seas" are destitute of water, and that if the lunar globe possesses an atmosphere, it must be excessively light.

The Moon became the favorite object of astronomers, and the numerous observations made of it authorized the delineation of very interesting selenographic charts. In order to find one's way among the seas, plains, and mountains that make up the lunar territory, it was necessary to name them. The seas were the first to be baptized, in accordance with their reputed astrological influences. Accordingly, we find on the Moon, the Sea of Fecundity, the Lake of Death, the Sea of Humors, the Ocean of Tempests, the Sea of Tranquillity, the Marsh of Mists, the Lake of Dreams, the Sea of Putrefaction, the Peninsula of Reverie, the Sea of Rains, etc.

With regard to the luminous parts and the mountains, it was at first proposed to call them after the most illustrious astronomers, but the fear of giving offense acted as a check on Hevelius and Riccioli, authors of the first lunar maps (1647, 1651), and they judged it more prudent to transfer the names of the terrestrial mountains to the Moon. The Alps, the Apennines, the Pyrenees, the Carpathians, are all to be found up there; then, as the vocabulary of the mountains was not adequate, the scientists reasserted their rights, and we meet in the Moon, Aristotle, Plato, Hipparchus, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, as well as other more modern and even contemporaneous celebrities.

We have not space to reproduce the general chart of the Moon (that published by the author measures not less than a meter, with the nomenclature); but the figure subjoined gives a summary sufficient for the limits of this little book. Here are the names of the principal lunar mountains, with the numbers corresponding to them upon the map.

Fig. 71.—Map of the Moon. Fig. 71.—Map of the Moon.

(From Fowler's "Telescopic Astronomy.")

1 Furnerius 14 Albategnius 27 Arzachel
2 Petavius 15 Hipparchus 28 Walter
3 Langrenus 16 Manilius 29 Clavius
4 Macrobius 17 Eudoxus 30 Tycho
5 Cleomedes 18 Aristotle 31 Bullialdus
6 Endymion 19 Cassini 32 Schiller
7 Altas 20 Aristillus 33 Schickard
8 Hercules 21 Plato 34 Gassendi
9 Romer 22 Archimedes 35 Kepler
10 Posidonius 23 Eratosthenes 36 Grimaldi
11 Fracastorius 24 Copernicus 37 Aristarchus
12 Theophilus 25 Ptolemy  
13 Piccolomini 26 Alphonsus  

A Mare Crisum F Mare Imbrium V Altai Mountains
B Mare Fercunditatis G Sinus Iridum W Mare Vaporum
C Mare Nectaris H Oceanus Procellarum X Apennine Mountains
D Mare Tranquilitatis I Mare Humorum Y Caucasus Mountains
E Mare Serenitatis K Mare Nubium Z Alps

The constantly growing progress of optics leads to perpetual new discoveries in science, and at the present time we can say that we know the geography of the Moon as well as, and even better than, that of our own planet. The heights of all the mountains of the Moon are measured to within a few feet. (One cannot say as much for the mountains of the Earth.) The highest are over 7,000 meters (nearly 25,000 feet). Relatively to its proportions, the satellite is much more mountainous than the planet, and the plutonian giants are much more numerous there than here. If we have peaks, like the Gaorisankar, the highest of the Himalayas and of the whole Earth, whose elevation of 8,840 meters (29,000 feet) is equivalent to 1⁄1,140 the diameter of our globe, there are peaks on the Moon of 7,700 meters (25,264 feet), e.g., those of Doerfel and Leibniz, the height of which is equivalent to 1⁄470 the lunar diameter.

Tycho's Mountain is one of the finest upon our satellite. It is visible with the naked eye (and perfectly with opera-glasses) as a white point shining like a kind of star upon the lower portion of the disk. At the time of full moon it is dazzling, and projects long rays from afar upon the lunar globe. So, too, Mount Copernicus, whose brilliant whiteness sparkles in space. But the strangest thing about these lunar mountains is that they are all hollow, and can be measured as well in depth as in height. A type of mountain as strange to us as are the seas without water! In effect, these mountains of the moon are ancient volcanic craters, with no summits, nor covers.

At the top of the highest peaks, there is a large circular depression, prolonged into the heart of the mountain, sometimes far below the level of the surrounding plains, and as these craters often measure several hundred kilometers, one is obliged, if one does not want to go all round them in crossing the mountain, to descend almost perpendicularly into the depths and cross there, to reascend the opposite side, and return to the plain. These alpine excursions incontestably deserve the name of perilous ascents!

No country on the Earth can give us any notion of the state of the lunar soil: never was ground so tormented; never globe so profoundly shattered to its very bowels. The mountains are accumulations of enormous rocks tumbled one upon the other, and round the awful labyrinth of craters one sees nothing but dismantled ramparts, or columns of pointed rocks like cathedral spires issuing from the chaos.

As we said, there is no atmosphere, or at least so little at the bottom of the valleys that it is imperceptible. No clouds, no fog, no rain nor snow. The sky is an eternally black space, vaultless, jeweled with stars by day as by night.

Let us suppose that we arrive among these savage steppes at daybreak: the lunar day is fifteen times longer than our own, because the Sun takes a month to illuminate the entire circuit of the Moon; there are no less than 354 hours from the rising to the setting of the Sun. If we arrive before the sunrise, there is no aurora to herald it, for in the absence of atmosphere there can be no sort of twilight. Of a sudden on the dark horizon come flashes of the solar light, striking the summits of the mountains, while the plains and valleys are still in darkness. The light spreads slowly, for while on the Earth in central latitudes the Sun takes only two minutes and a quarter to rise, on the Moon it takes nearly an hour, and in consequence the light it sends out is very weak for some minutes, and increases excessively slowly. It is a kind of aurora, but lasts a very short time, for when at the end of half an hour, the solar disk has half risen, the light appears as intense to the eye as when it is entirely above the horizon; the radiant orb is seen with its protuberances and its burning atmosphere. It rises slowly, like a luminous god, in the depths of the black sky, a profound and formless sky in which the stars shine all day, since they are not hidden by any atmospheric veil such as conceals them from us during the daylight.

Fig. 72.—The Lunar Apennines. Fig. 72.—The Lunar Apennines.

The absence of sensible atmosphere must produce an effect on the temperature of the Moon analogous to that perceived on the high mountains of our globe, where the rarefaction of the air does not permit the solar heat to concentrate itself upon the surface of the soil, as it does below the atmosphere, which acts as a forcing-house: the Sun's heat is not kept in by anything, and incessantly radiates out toward space. In all probability the cold is extremely and constantly rigorous, not only during the nights, which are fifteen times longer than our own, but even during the long days of sunshine.

We give two different drawings to represent these curious aspects of lunar topography. The first (Fig. 72) is taken in the neighborhood of the Apennines, and shows a long chain of mountains beneath which are three deep rings, Archimedes, Aristillus, and Autolycus: the second (Fig. 73) depicts the lunar ring of Flammarion, whose outline is constructed of dismantled ramparts, and whose depths are sprinkled with little craters. The first of these two drawings was made in England by Nasmyth, the second in Germany by Krieger: they both give an exact idea of what one sees in the telescope with different modes of solar illumination.

In the Moon's always black and starry sky a majestic star that is not visible from the Earth, and exhibits this peculiarity that it is stationary in the Heavens, while all the others pass behind it, may constantly be admired, by day as well as by night; and it is also of considerable apparent magnitude. This orb, some four times as large as the Moon in diameter, and thirteen to fourteen times more extensive in surface, is our Earth, which presents to the Moon a sequence of phases similar to those which our satellite presents to us, but in the inverse direction. At the moment of New Moon, the Sun fully illuminates the terrestrial hemisphere turned toward our satellite, and we get "Full Earth"; at the time of Full Moon, on the contrary, the non-illuminated hemisphere of the Earth is turned toward the satellite, and we get "New Earth": when the Moon shows us first quarter, the Earth is in last quarter, and so on. The drawing subjoined gives an idea of these aspects.

Fig. 73.—Flammarion's Lunar Ring. Fig. 73.—Flammarion's Lunar Ring.

What a curious sight our globe must be during this long night of fourteen times twenty-four hours! Independent of its phases, which bring it from first quarter to full earth for the middle of the night, and from full earth to last quarter for sunrise, how interested we should be to see it thus stationary in the sky, and turning on itself in twenty-four hours.

Fig. 74.—Lunar landscape with the Earth in the sky. Fig. 74.—Lunar landscape with the Earth in the sky.

Yes, thanks to us, the inhabitants of the lunar hemisphere turned toward us are gratified by the sight of a splendid nocturnal torch, doubtless less white than our own despite the clouds with which the terrestrial globe is studded, and shaded in a tender tone of bluish emerald-green. The royal orb of their long nights, the Earth, gives them moonlight of unparalleled beauty, and we may say without false modesty that our presence in the lunar sky must produce marvelous and absolutely fairy-like effects.

Maybe, they envy us our globe, a dazzling dwelling-place whose splendor radiates through space; they see its greenish clarity varying with the extent of cloud that veils its seas and continents, and they observe its motion of rotation, by which all the countries of our planet are revealed in succession to its admirers.

We are talking of these pageants seen from the Moon, and of the inhabitants of our satellite as if they really existed. The sterile and desolate aspect of the lunar world, however, rather brings us to the conclusion that such inhabitants are non-existent, although we have no authorization for affirming this. That they have existed seems to me beyond doubt. The lunar volcanoes had a considerable activity, in an atmosphere that allowed the white volcanic ashes to be carried a long way by the winds, figuring round the craters the stellar rays that are still so striking. These cinders were spread over the soil, preserving all its asperities of outline, a little heaped up on the side to which they were impelled. The magnificent photographs recently made at the Paris Observatory by MM. Loewy and Puiseux are splendid evidence of these projections. In this era of planetary activity there were liquids and gases on the surface of the lunar globe, which appear subsequently to have been entirely absorbed. Now the teaching of our own planet is that Nature nowhere remains infertile, and that the production of Life is a law so general and so imperious that life develops at its own expense, sooner than abstain from developing. Accordingly, it is difficult to suppose that the lunar elements can have remained inactive, when only next door they exhibited such fecundity upon our globe. Yes, the Moon has been inhabited by beings doubtless very different from ourselves, and perhaps may still be, although this globe has run through the phases of its astral life more rapidly than our own, and the daughter is relatively older than the mother.

The duration of the life of the worlds appears to have been in proportion with their masses. The Moon cooled and mineralized more quickly than the Earth. Jupiter is still fluid.

The progress of optics brings us already very close to this neighboring province. 'Tis a pity we can not get a little nearer!

A telescopic magnification of 2,000 puts the Moon at 384,000⁄2,000 or 192 kilometers (some 120 miles) from our eye. Practically we can obtain no more, either from the most powerful instruments, or from photographic enlargements. Sometimes, exceptionally, enlargements of 3,000 can be used. This = 384,000⁄3,000 or 128 kilometers (some 80 miles). Undoubtedly, this is an admirable result, which does the greatest honor to human intelligence. But it is still too far to enable us to determine anything in regard to lunar life.

Any one who likes to be impressed by grand and magnificent sights may turn even a modest field-glass upon our luminous satellite, at about first quarter, when the relief of its surface, illuminated obliquely by the Sun, is at its greatest value. If you examine our neighbor world at this period, for choice at the hour of sunset, you will be astonished at its brilliancy and beauty. Its outlines, its laces, and embroideries, give the image of a jewel of shining silver, translucent, fluid, palpitating in the ether. Nothing could be more beautiful, nothing purer, and more celestial, than this lunar globe floating in the silence of space, and sending back to us as in some fairy dream the solar illumination that floods it. But yesterday I received the same impression, watching a great ring half standing out, and following the progress of the Sun as it mounted the lunar horizon to touch these silvered peaks. And I reflected that it is indeed inconceivable that 999,999⁄1,000,000 of the inhabitants of our planet should pass their lives without ever having attended to this pageant, nor to any of those others which the divine Urania scatters so profusely beneath the wondering gaze of the observers of the Heavens.