New Lands

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X





AND our own underground investigations — and whether there is something in the sky or not. We are in a hole in time. Cavern of Conventional Science — walls that are dogmas, from which drips ancient wisdom in a patter of slimy opinions — but we have heard a storm of data outside —

Of beings that march in the sky, and of a beacon on the moon — another dark body crosses the sun. Somewhere near Melida there is cannonading, and another stone falls from the sky at Irkutsk, Siberia; and unknown grain falls from an unknown world, and there are flashes in the sky when the planet Mars is near.

In a farrago of lights and sounds and forms, I feel the presence of possible classifications that may thread a pattern of attempt to find out something. My attention is attracted by a streak of events that is beaded with little star-like points of light. First we shall find out what we can, as to the moon.

In one of the numbers of the Observatory, an eminent authority, in some fields of research, is quoted as to the probable distance of the moon. According to his determinations, the moon is 37 miles away. He explains most reasonably: he is Mr. G.B. Shaw. But by conventional doctrine, the moon is 240,000 miles away. My own idea is that somewhere between determinations by a Shaw and determinations by a Newcomb, we could find many acceptances.(1)

I prefer questionable determinations, myself, or at any rate examinations that end up with questions or considerable latitude. It may be that as to the volcanoes of the moon we can find material for at least a seemingly intelligent question, if no statements are possible as to the size and the distance of the moon. The larger volcanoes of this earth are about three miles in diameter, though the craters of Haleakla, Hawaii, and Aso San, Japan, are seven [98/99] miles across. But the larger volcanoes of the relatively little moon are said to be sixty miles across, though several are said to be twice that size.(2) And I start off with just about the impression of disproportionality that I should have, if someone should tell me of a pygmy with ears five feet long.

Is there any somewhat good reason for thinking that the volcanic craters of the little moon are larger than, or particularly different in any way from, the craters of this earth?

If not, we have a direct unit of measurement, according to which the moon is not 2160, but about 100, miles in diameter.

How far away does one suppose to be an object with something like that diameter, and of the seeming size of the moon?

The astronomers explain. They argue that gravitation must be less powerful upon the moon than upon this earth, and that therefore larger volcanic formations could have been cast up on the moon. We explain. We argue that volcanic force must be less powerful upon the moon than upon this earth, and that therefore larger volcanic formations could not have been cast up on the moon.

The disproportionality that has impressed me has offended more conventional æsthetics than mine. Prof. See, for instance, has tried to explain that the lunar formations are not craters but are effects of bombardment by vast meteors, which spared this earth, for some reason not made clear.(3) Viscid moon — meteor pops in — up splash walls and a central cone. If Prof. See will jump in swimming some day, and then go back some weeks later to see how big a splash he made, he will have other ideas upon such supposed persistences. The moon would have to have been virtually liquid to fit his theory, because there are no partly embedded, vast, round meteors protruding anywhere.

There have been lights like signals upon the moon. There are two conventional explanations: reflected sunlight and volcanic action. Of course, ultra-conventionalists do not admit that in our own times there has been even volcanic action upon the moon. Our instances will be of light upon the dark part of the moon, and there are good reasons for thinking that our data do not relate to volcanic action. In volcanic eruptions upon this earth the glow is so accompanied by great volumes of smoke that a clear, [99/100] definite point of light would seem not to be the appearance from a distance.

For Webb's account of a brilliant display of minute dots and streaks of light, in the Mare Crisium, July 4, 1832, see Astro. Reg., 20-165.(4) I have records of half a dozen similar illuminations here, in about 120 years, all of them when the Mare Crisium was in darkness. There can be no commonplace explanation for such spectacles, or they would have occurred oftener; nevertheless the Mare Crisium is a wide, open region, and at times there may have been uncommon percolations of sunlight, and I shall list no more of these interesting events that seem to me to have been like carnivals upon the moon.

Dec. 22, 1835 — the star-like light in Aristarchus — reported by Francis Bailey — see Proctor's Myths and Marvels, p. 329.(5)

Feb. 13, 1826 — in the western crater of Messier — according to Gruithuisen (Sci. Amer. Sup., 7-2629) — two straight lines of light; between them a dark band that was covered with luminous points.(6)

Upon the nights of March 18 and 19, 1847, large luminous spots were seen upon the dark part of the moon, and a general glow upon the upper limb, by the Rev. T. Rankin and Prof. Chevalier (Rept. B.A., 1847-18).(7) The whole shaded part of the disc seemed to be a mixture of lights and shades. Upon the night of the 19th, there was a similar appearance upon this earth, an aurora, according to the London newspapers. It looks as if both the moon and this earth were affected by the same illumination, said to have been auroral. I offer this occurrence as indication that the moon is nearby, if moon and earth could be so affected in common.

But by signalling, I mean something like the appearance that was seen, by Hodgson, upon the dark part of the moon, night of Dec. 11, 1847 — a bright light that flashed intermittently. Upon the next night it was seen again, (Monthly Notices R.A.S., 8-55).(8)

*  *  *

The oppositions of Mars occur once in about two years and two months. In conventional terms, the eccentricity of the orbit of Mars is greater than the eccentricity of the orbit of this earth, [100/101] and the part of its orbit that is traversed by this earth in August is nearest the orbit of Mars. When this earth is between Mars and the sun, Mars is said to be in opposition, and this is the position of nearest approach: when opposition occurs in August, that is the most favorable opposition. After that, every two years and about two months, the oppositions are less favorable, until the least favorable of all, in February, after which favorablness increases up to the climacteric opposition in August again. This is a cycle of changing proximities within a period of about fifteen years.

In October, 1862, Lockyer saw a spot like a long train of clouds on Mars, and several days later Secchi saw a spot on Mars. And if that were signalling, it is a very meagre material upon which to suppose anything. And May 8-22, 1873 — white spots on Mars. But, upon June 17, 1873, two months after nearest approach, but still in the period of opposition of Mars, there was either an extraordinary occurrence, or the extraordinariness is in our interpretation. See Rept B.A., 1874-272.(9) A luminous object came to this earth, and was seen and heard upon the night of June 17, 1873, to explode in the sky of Hungary, Austria, and Bohemia. In the words of various writers, termed according to their knowledge, the object was seen seemingly coming from Mars, or from "the red star in the south," where Mars was at the time. Our data were collected by Dr. Galle. The towns of Rybnik and Ratibor, Upper Silesia, are 15 miles apart.(10) Without parallax, this luminous thing was seen from these points "to emerge and separate itself from the disk of the planet Mars." It so happens that we have a definite observation from one of these towns. At Rybnik, Dr. Sage was looking at Mars, at the time. He saw the luminous object "apparently issue from the planet." There is another circumstance, and for its reception our credulity, or our enlightenment, has been prepared. If this thing did come from Mars, it came from the planet to the point where it exploded in about 5 seconds: from the point of the explosion, the sound travelled in several minutes. We have a description from Dr. Sage that indicates that a bolt of some kind, perhaps electric, did shoot from Mars, and that the planet quaked with the shock — "Dr. Sage was looking attentively at the planet Mars, when he thus [101/102] saw the meteor apparently issue from it, and the planet appear as if it was breaking up and dividing into two parts."

Some of the greatest surprises in commonplace experience are discoveries of the nearness of that which was supposed to be the inaccessibly remote.

*  *  *

It seems that the moon is close to this earth, because of the phenomenon of "earthshine." The same appearance has been seen upon the planet Venus. If upon the moon, it is light reflecting from this earth and back to this earth, what is it upon Venus? It is "some unexplained optical illusion," says Newcomb, (Popular Astronomy, p. 296.(11) For a list of more than twenty observations upon this illumination of Venus, see Rept. B.A., 1873-404.(12) It is our expression that the phenomenon is "unexplained" because it does indicate that Venus is millions of miles closer to this earth than Venus "should" be.

Unknown objects have been seen near Venus. There were more than thirty such observations in the eighteenth century, not relating to so many different periods, however. Our own earliest datum is Webb's observation, of May 22, 1823. I know of only one astronomer who has supposed that these observations could relate to a Venusian satellite, pronouncedly visible sometimes, and then for many years being invisible: something else will have to be thought of. If these observations and others that we shall have, be accepted, they relate to unknown bulks that have, from outer space, gone to Venus, and have been in temporary suspension near the planet, even though the shade of Sir Isaac Newton would curdle at the suggestion. If, acceptably, from outer space, something could go to the planet Venus, one is not especially startled with the idea that something could sail out from the planet Venus — visit this earth, conceivably.

In the Rept. B.A., 1852-8, 35, it is said that, early in the morning of Sept. 11, 1852, several persons at Four Oaks, Staffordshire, had seen, in the eastern sky, a luminous object.(13) It was first seen at 4.15 A.M. It appeared and disappeared several times, until 4.45 A.M., when it became finally invisible. Then, at almost the same place in the sky, Venus was seen, having risen above the eastern horizon. These persons sent the records of their [102/103] observations to Lord Wrottesley, an astronomer whose observatory was at Wolverhampton. There is published a letter from Lord Wrottesley, who says that at first he had thought that the suppositiously unknown object was Venus, with perhaps an extraordinary halo, but that he had received from one of the observers a diagram giving such a position relatively to the moon that he hesitated so to identify. It was in the period of nearest approach to this earth by Venus, and, since inferior conjunction, (July 20, 1852) Venus had been a "morning star." If this thing in the sky were not Venus, the circumstances are that an object came close to this earth, perhaps, and for a while was stationary, as if waiting for the planet Venus to appear above the eastern horizon, then disappearing, whether to sail to Venus or not. We think that perhaps this thing did come close to this earth, because it was, it seems, seen only in the local sky of Four Oaks. However, if, according to many of our data, professional astronomers have missed extraordinary appearances at reasonable hours, we can't conclude much from what was not reported by them, after 4 o'clock in the morning. I do not know whether this is the origin of the convention or not, but this is the first note I have upon the now standardized explanation that, when a luminous object is seen in the sky at the time of the nearest approach by Venus, it is Venus, attracting attention by her great brilliance, exciting persons, unversed in astronomic matters, into thinking that a strange object had visited this earth. When reports are definite as to motions of a seemingly sailing or exploring, luminous thing, astronomers say that it was a fire-balloon.

In the Rept. B.A., 1856-54, it is said that, according to "Mrs. Ayling and friends," in a letter to Lord Wrottesley, a bright object had been seen in the sky of Petworth, Sussex, night of August 11, 1855.(14) According to the description, it rose from behind hills, in the distance, at half past eleven o'clock. It was a red body, or it was a red-appearing construction, because from it were projections like spokes of a wheel; or, they were "stationary" rays, in the words of the description. "Like a red moon, it rose slowly, and diminished slowly, remaining visible one hour and a half."(15) Upon August 11, 1855, Venus was two weeks from primary greatest brilliance, inferior conjunction occurring upon Sept. 30. The [103/104] thing could not have been Venus, ascending in the sky, at this time of night. An astonishing thing, like a red moon, perhaps with spokes like a wheel's, might, if reported from nowhere else, be considered something that came from outer space so close to this earth that it was visible only in a local sky, except that it might have been visible in other places, and even half past eleven at night may be an unheard-of hour for astronomers, who specialize upon sunspots for a reason that is clearing up to us. Of course an ordinary fire-balloon could be extraordinarily described.

June 8, 1868 — I have not the exact time, but one does suspect that it was early in the evening — an object that was reported from Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford. It looked like a comet, but inasmuch as it was reported only from Radcliffe, it may have been in the local sky of Oxford. It seemed to sail in the sky: it moved and changed its course. At first it was stationary; then it moved westward, then southward, then turning north, visible four minutes. See Eng. Mec., 7-351.(16) According to a correspondent to the Birmingham Gazette, May 28, 1868, there had been an extraordinary illumination upon Venus, some nights before: a red spot, visible for a few seconds, night of May 27.(17) In the issue of the Gazette, of June 1st, someone else writes that he saw this light appearing and disappearing upon Venus.(18) Upon March 15, Browning had seen something that looked like a little shaft of light from Venus (Eng. Mec., 40-130); and upon April 6, Webb had seen a similar appearance (Celestial Objects, p. 57).(19)

At the time of the appearance at Oxford, Venus was in the period of nearest approach (inferior conjunction July 16, 1868).

I think, myself, that there was one approximately great, wise astronomer. He was Tycho Brahé. For many years, he would not describe what he saw in the sky, because he considered it beneath his dignity to write a book.(20) The undignified, or more or less literary, or sometimes altogether literary, astronomers, who do write books, uncompromisingly say that when a luminous object is said to have moved to greater degree than could be considered illusory, in a local sky of this earth, it is a fire-balloon. It is not possible to find in the writings of astronomers who so explain, mention of the object that was seen by Coggia, night of August 1, 1871. It seems that this thing was not far away, and [104/105] did appear only in a local sky of this earth, and if it did come from outer space, how it could have "boarded" this earth, if this earth moves at a rate of 19 miles a second, or 1 mile a second, is so hard to explain that why Proctor and Hind, with their passionate itch for explaining, never took the matter up, I don't know. Upon Aug. 1, 1871, an unknown luminous object was seen in the sky of Marseilles, by Coggia (Comptes Rendus, 73-398).(21) According to description, it was a magnificent red object. It appeared at 10.43 P.M., and moved eastward, slowly, until 10.52.30. It stopped — moved northward, and again, at 10.59.30, was stationary. It turned eastward again, and, at 11.03.20, disappeared, or fell behind the horizon. Upon this night Venus was within three weeks of primary greatest brilliance, inferior conjunction occurring upon Sept. 25, 1871.


1. "The mention of cloudy eclipses reminds me of a clipping...." Observatory, 24 (June 1901): 254-5. George Bernard Shaw. "Science and common sense." English Mechanic, 71 (April 13, 1900): 183-4. George Bernard Shaw. "The conflict between science and common sense." Humane Review, 1 (April 1900): 3-15, at 12-3. (George) Bernard Shaw. "Science and common sense." Current Literature, 29 (August 1900): 196-8. The extract of Shaw's essay about astronomy, including the moon's distance from the earth, was recounted by the editor of the Observatory from a brief extract in the English Mechanic; although much of Shaw's essay was reproduced in Current Literature, the subject of astronomy was excluded; thus, Shaw's diatribe against scientists, including astronomers, can best be appreciated in the original essay in the Humane Review. However, Fort may not have seen this, as he only notes, in SF-V-359: "Astro. G.B. Shaw + moon's distance Observatory 24-255 June 1901."

2. For several comparisons between lunar craters and terrestrial volcanoes: Hermann J. Klein. "On some volcanic formations in the Moon." Observatory, 5 (1882): 253-8. J.F. Tennant. "Volcanoes." Observatory, 13 (1890): 390-1. S.A. Saunder. "A comparison of the features of the Earth and the Moon." Observatory, 28 (1905): 130-9.

3. W.L. Webb. Brief Biography and Popular Account of the Unparalleled Discoveries of T.J.J. See. Lynn, Massachusetts: Thos. P. Nichols & Son, 1913, 181-3, c.v. "The origin of the lunar craters and maria."

4. A. Stanley Williams. "The Mare Crisium." Astronomical Register, 20 (1882): 165-6.

5. Richard Anthony Proctor. Myths and Marvels of Astronomy. New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1903, 329-30.

6. Camille Flammarion. "Is the Moon inhabited?" Scientific American Supplement, 7 (March 29, 1879): 2696, 2711-2, at 2696.

7. T. Rankin. "On a singular appearance of the shaded part of the Moon...." And: T. Rankin. "Meteorological observations at Huggate." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1847, Trans., 18. The correct name is Chevallier, not Chevalier.

8. "Self-luminous spot in the Moon." Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 8 (January 1848): 55.

9. James Glaisher et al. "Report on observations of luminous meteors during the year 1873-74." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1874, 269-359, at 270-7. Correct quote: "Dr. Sage, who noted this appearance of the meteor at Rybnik, was looking...," "...issue from it[.]" The observation was said to have lasted: 15.5 seconds, not 5 seconds, according to Dr. Galle; according to school students: 15.7 seconds, (though one said no more than 10 seconds); and, 9 seconds, according to one of Galle's assistants.

10. Ratibor is now identified as Racibórz, Poland; and, it is about 15 miles from Rybnik, Poland.

11. Simon Newcomb. Popular Astronomy. 1st ed. London: Macmillan and Co., 1878, 295-6. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan and Co., 1883, 303-4.

12. A. Schafarik. "On the visibility of the dark side of Venus." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1873, 404-8.

13. Baden Powell. "Report on observations of luminous meteors, 1852-53." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1853, 1-36, at 8-9, 35-6.

14. Baden Powell. "Report on observations of luminous meteors, 1855-56." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1856, 53-62, at 54-55. The location was at Tillington, near Petworth.

15. Fort apparently misread his notes regarding the description, for the comparison made was with Mars and not with the Moon.

16. "Remarkable meteor." English Mechanic, 7 (July 10, 1868): 351. The observation was made at 9:50 P.M.

17. "The Evening Star." Birmingham Daily Gazette, May 28, 1868, p.8 c.5.

18. "The Planet Venus." Birmingham Daily Gazette, June 1, 1868, p.6 c.6.

19. "Is there a snow cap on Venus?" English Mechanic, 40 (October 10, 1884): 129-130. Thomas William Webb. Celestial Objects. 4th ed. 1881. 6th ed., 1917. 4th ed., 57. The observer on April 6 was With, not Webb.

20. J.L.E. Dreyer. Tycho Brahe. Adam and Charles Black, 1890, 43. Reprint. New York: Dover Publications, 1963, 43.

21. Coggia. "Observation d'un bolide, faite à Observatoire de Marseille le 1er août." Comptes Rendus, 73 (1871): 397-8.

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