“An Astronomical Blunder”

“An Astronomical Blunder. — Professor Waltemath of Hamburg recently announced through a private circular that he had discovered a second moon to our earth. The contents of the circular were the basis of sensational articles in leading newspapers… He also quotes descriptions of strange objects in the sky seen at various times since the sixteenth century, which his calculations show were probably this second moon.”

The Cyclopedic Review of Current History, 1898

Georg Waltemath
“Dr. George [sic] Waltemath. The German astronomer, who says he has discovered a second moon circling around the earth.” – Chicago Daily Tribune, March 22, 1898.
Georg Waltemath made an extraordinary claim: that the Earth had a second moon. It was supposed that it was much smaller and dimmer than the known moon. He calculated that this object orbited the Earth every 119 days and would pass between the Earth and Sun, on average, every 177 days. He predicted that on February 3rd of 1898 it would be visible in silhouette as it moved across the disk of the Sun, an event known as an astronomical transit.

Winslow Upton was skeptical of the existence of this long unnoticed moon, but nonetheless attempted to observe it.

The Washington Post, February 11, 1898
“Another Moon.” The Washington Post, February 11, 1898.

According to Professor Winslow Upton, who is at the head of the Ladd Observatory connected with Brown University: “The method which is used to calculate the orbit of the supposed moon is not given, but the results stated are unfortunately opposed by strong negative considerations. If the body were opaque, even if of small reflecting power, it would appear as a black body when crossing the sun, and on account of its large size (more than 2′) would be a very conspicuous object. It would have been detected many years ago and its existence positively determined. The sun has been observed for many years on every clear day at certain observatories, and in recent years has been regularly photographed, and no object has been seen of this description which was not a sun spot. A satellite would have been detected by its rapid motion, as it would cross the sun in a few hours. It is not possible to explain all the strange appearances in the sky which have been noted from time to time, but the suggested explanation of a second moon does not accord with some of the descriptions as well as the supposition of a comet would do.”

On February 3 a series of observations were taken under Professor Upton’s direction, which confirmed his negative views as to the existence of the alleged satellite.

– Winslow Upton, as quoted in The Cyclopedic Review of Current History.

A Newly Invented Moon.
“A Newly Invented Moon.” The Youth’s Companion, March 3, 1898.

Waltemath was undeterred by the negative results of his remarkable prediction: he later claimed the existence of a third moon orbiting the Earth. While it is possible that a small object might be captured, at least temporarily, by the Earth’s gravity and become a “moon” for a short time there has been no evidence in the past century to support the assertions of Waltemath or others that our planet has another moon.

5 thoughts on ““An Astronomical Blunder””

  1. Interesting article. Please note however that a “dark moon” has been part of common lore for some time (since at least early 1600s), and likely since Sumerian days. Easy to research just look up “dark moon Lilith”. This is not an astronomical blunder however since it is an astrological concept.

  2. Yes, there have been numerous claims of a second moon by both astronomers and astrologers throughout history. Such claims have observational consequences, as Upton explained. In this case Waltemath, who called himself a scientist, makes a very specific astronomical prediction: a visible transit of the Sun. Walter Gornold, an astrologer, claimed in 1918 to have confirmed the existence of the object that Waltemath announced and called it Lilith. But, I’ve seen no evidence that Waltemath was interested in astrology and the press described his announcement as an astronomical discovery with no mention of astrological implications. After astronomers failed to observe the object when it was predicted to be visible the press called it “an astronomical blunder” as Waltemath had stated confidently that it would be seen in a telescope.

  3. Thanks for clarification Michael… as I said interesting article, for me most interesting is the great history of Lilith leading up to the “blunder”.

  4. Apologize to keep this thread going, but other “nonastrological” reports include:
    (1) Pskovsky 1966 in Moscow News
    (2) John Bagby 1969 in New Scientist

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