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Paper: The Habitability of the Moon
Volume: 213, Bioastronomy '99: A New Era in Bioastronomy
Page: 593
Authors: Herczeg, Tibor
Abstract: Following the vague guesswork of some writers in antiquity, early telescopic astronomy was strongly preoccupied with the ``World in the Moone.'' About the same time, as Kepler's charming ``Dream'' appeared posthumously, Wilkins set out to prove that there was no contradiction ``with reason or faith'' if we assumed the habitability of the Moon. For about two hundred years, this hypothesis remained quite popular (Cyrano, Fontenelle, Huygens) particularly among the wider public. That in spite of the reverberations, for instance, of the Whewell-Brewster controversy over the habitability of planets, now largely forgotten. On this background, the success of the famous ``Moon hoax of 1835'' seems more understandable. It was only in the middle of the 19th century that this idea began to slowly fade as the lack of lunar atmosphere became more and more obvious. The scientific evidence was mainly in connection with the lunar occultations (Bessel, John Herschel, and others), and also with the well-observed total solar eclipse of 1842. Yet, even later, rather fanciful assumptions about the lunar atmosphere collecting on the invisible far side of the Moon kept a modicum of believability alive for some years. Ultimately, however, the ``Selenites'' wandered over into the domain of science fiction -- the best representative being perhaps Wells' utopia in the ``First Men on the Moon'' exploring the inside of the Moon. The scientific studies concentrated more on the rather frustrating topic of lunar surface variations such as the disappearance of the crater Linnae. Nevertheless, as late as the 1960's, a possibly overly cautious NASA was ready to quarantine the returning Apollo astronauts, paying homage, perhaps, to the panspermia hypothesis.
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