Kenneth Setzer

Moonlore: Our Verdant Satellite that Never Was

One August morning in 1835, New Yorkers awoke to the increasing heat and humidity of a typical northeast summer. Any one of them wanting to read about the events going on around them in the world before starting their day had only to buy a newspaper. On this day, The New York Sun had plastered an unusual headline across its front page:


Hmmmmm “Great Astronomical Discoveries.” That would make me put aside my coffee for a few minutes. What the reader discovers for him/herself however is nothing short of astonishing — An astronomer did it!  Extraterrestrial life, finally discovered! ON THE MOON! Sir John Herschel purportedly created a telescope capable of resolving objects as small as 18 inches sitting on the surface of the moon! Even today our best telescopes can’t come close to that. But Sir John Herschel was a respected scientist of his time (as well as an experimenter in early photography). Maybe it was true.

Sir John Herschel — Did not discover Batman

Even more shocking, this life was no mere bacterium, no! The article claimed not only were herds of mammalian-looking creatures spotted roaming verdant and expansive fantasy landscapes, but large humanoid creatures, with huge bat-like wings flew together in flocks. They were even named. Vespertilio-homo or “bat man.”

It was unfortunately a hoax, but the article served its purpose of increasing sales of The New York Sun. Then, like now, there didn’t seem to be any consequences for selling fiction as “news.” Even Sir John Herschel, who was supposed to be at the heart of the discovery, had no prior knowledge of the series of articles spawned from this fabrication.


There seems to be no lack of moon myths throughout history. My favorites are usually based on 18th and 19th century observations. The great explorer Captain Cook even stated that “spots observed in the moon are supposed to be groves of a sort of trees” (A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, by Capt. James Cook, F.R.S., and Capt. James King, LL.D., F.R.S. London, 1784, ii. 167.)

There are hundreds of such tales of our nearest satellite, some ancient and meant to be taken seriously, and some more recent, fantastic, but with a grain of hope and wishful thinking:

Nude on the Moon

This gem is the 1961 Doris Wishman film Nude on the Moon. Two dopes create a rocket & fly to the moon, only to discover a breathable atmosphere and DAMES! Naked ones at that! Nude on the Moon was filmed at Coral Castle, an attraction here in Miami constructed of coral rock. I can tell you, there is no where you would rather be nude less than around blocks of coral rock. It is razor sharp.

This lunar fascination appeared again in the recent “super moon,” a full moon at its perigee. I took pics of the super moon. I then started thinking, what if the moon were massive enough to hold on to an atmosphere, and it was able to nurture life, like Earth? What if the craters were filled with oceans, and the higher elevations cold and icy?

Super Moon of May 5, 2012. Shot in Miami, Florida at 7:21pm.

I decided to color in the moon to see what it would look like if it weren’t cold, barren, dry, and lifeless. So based on NASA shots of Earth from space, I gave the moon the verdant greens, blues, yellows, and browns of our beautiful and fecund planet, bursting with life.

What if the Moon had an atmosphere?

Next time you look up at the moon, imagine what might have been, what possibly could have been, had the Moon’s mass been a little greater, or its orbit slightly different.

A fertile Moon rises

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