James Nasmyth’s Fake Lunar Photographs From 1874

In 1874, an astronomer and an inventor together published one of the most influential books of the time on lunar geology, titled The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite. In 276 pages, James Nesmith and James Carpenter summarize three decades of research covering everything astronomers knew about the Moon, and also attempt to answer some of the still-unanswered questions of the time , such as: Can the Moon support life? Was there any atmosphere to it? How were its craters formed?

Accompanying the text was a collection of fascinating photographs of the Moon's surface, highly detailed and so close that they appear like photographs from the Apollo missions that would not fly for another century. Although today it is possible to take such detailed photographs of the Moon without leaving terra firma using powerful telescopes and modern cameras, at that time photography was still in its infancy and there was no suitable technology for taking photographs directly through a telescope. 

So how did James Naismith manage to take these photos? By carefully constructing an accurate plaster model of the Moon's surface, guided by sketches he made while observing through his self-made telescope. He then photographed the models against a black background and with a bright light shining obliquely on them to mimic the sun's rays hitting the moon's numerous craters and mountains.

“The result is excellent; Far more accurate than any detail of photographs could possibly be,” wrote one of the book’s contemporary reviewers.

James Nasmyth may not have been a professional astronomer, but the Edinburgh-born Scotsman was one of the leading engineers of his era. The son of a painter, Naismith showed extraordinary mechanical inclinations from a very early age. He was only seventeen years old when he built his first model steam engine, and twenty-one when he built a complete steam carriage capable of carrying half a dozen people. For two years, Nasmyth worked in the machine workshop of the famous inventor Henry Maudsley in London, but later moved to Manchester where he set up his own foundry business. Soon, Naismith and his business partners were making all types of heavy machinery for factories, railways, and steamships. While creating the unusually large paddle wheels of the steamship SS Great Britain, Nasmyth resolved technical challenges by designing the highlight of his career—the steam hammer. Although the great paddle wheel for which the mighty hammer was invented was never hammered, the steam hammer was such a great commercial success that Nesmith retired at the age of forty-eight to pursue the other passions of his life. In old age he was able to retire comfortably, particularly in astronomy and photography.

Naismith settled near Penshurst, Kent, where he built his 20-inch reflecting telescope. Always an inventor, Naismith modified a typical Cassegrain telescope by adding a third diagonal flat mirror to pass the beam of light through the side of the telescope barrel instead of the other end. This allowed the telescope to be rotated to any angle without constantly moving the eye piece. Most modern telescopes today use this configuration.

After observing the Moon for two decades, Naismith co-authored the book The Moon Considered a Planet, a World, and a Satellite with astronomer James Carpenter, where the two presented various hypotheses of the Moon's origin, its internal structure, and geology. Kept in front. Like many astronomers of the time, Naismith believed that craters on the Moon's surface were of volcanic origin. The book provides numerous drawings of cross-sections of the celestial body's underground layers to illustrate this idea, even taking examples from the terrestrial world to demonstrate.

For example, Nasmyth argued that as the lunar region cooled, the outer layers first solidified and contracted, while the inner layers, which were still molten, expanded, which Nasmyth called "pre-solidification expansion". The expanding inner core pressed against the shrinking outer layers, resulting in cracks appearing on the Moon's surface through which molten lava erupted, forming the Moon's many craters. Eventually, as the core cooled and contracted, mountains formed, just as shrinking muscles with age create wrinkles on the back of a hand. Nesmith also demonstrated that the expanding interior caused the characteristic radiation streaks found on the surface of the Moon by showing a photograph of a glass sphere that was radially broken due to pressure from within.

Although the science is wrong, the pictures that accompanied the book were amazing. Even though fake, the photographs were – as NASA noted – "more realistic than the images that could be obtained by telescopic photography at the time." Ironically, a century later when the Apollo missions transmitted actual photographs and footage of the Moon's surface, NASA and the government were accused of faking it all – a ridiculous notion that refuses to go away to this day.

In recognition of their work, James Naismith and James Carpenter were both honored with craters named after them.

1 comment:

  1. Same thing they did at Langley AFB in Hampton. These are more real that the fake "Apollo" nonsense.


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