Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

January 3, 1998
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download 
 the highest resolution version available.

The Barren Moon
Credit: Apollo 17, NASA

Explanation: The above photo, taken as the Apollo 17 astronauts orbited the Moon in 1972, depicts the stark lunar surface around the Eratosthenes and Copernicus craters. Many similar images of a Moon devoid of life are familiar to denizens of the space age. Contrary to this modern perception, life on the Moon was reported in August of 1835 in a series of sensational stories first published by the New York Sun - apparently intended to improve the paper's circulation. These descriptions of lunar life received broad credence and became one of the most spectacular hoaxes in history. Supposedly based on telescopic observations, the stories featured full, lavish accounts of a Moon with oceans and beaches, teeming with plant and animal life and climaxing with the report of sightings of groups of winged, furry, human-like creatures resembling bats! Within a month the hoax had been revealed but the newspaper continued to enjoy an increased readership. Though barren, the Moon remains a popular setting for science fiction stories and extra-terrestrial adventures. It has now been 25 years since Apollo 17 ended an era of human exploration of Earth's Moon.

Tomorrow's picture: Fractal Interstellar Dust Up-Close

< Archive | Index | Search | Calendar | Glossary | Education | About APOD >

Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.