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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

moons of Mars British satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), in his four-volume work Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World, better known now as Gulliver's Travels, described a mythical advanced kingdom where the astronomers had discovered that the planet Mars had two small moons in orbit very close to the surface. That fact was unknown——and unknowable——at that time (1726) and was not determined until 151 years later in 1877 when astronomer Asaph Hall, at the U.S. Naval Observatory, observed the planet and its moons during a favorable opposition. This provided a mystery, which was amplified by modern UFO fans into a theory that Swift had been visited by extraterrestrials who had informed him of this fact.
      The eminent Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1540-1601) had supported a numerological argument that, since Mercury and Venus (the planets nearest to the Sun) had no moons, the Earth had one, and Jupiter (the second planet out from the Earth) had four (known) moons, that in order to preserve the harmony of the universe, Mars (between Earth and Jupiter) must have two satellites (see table following). Since these moons had not been detected, Tycho reasoned sensibly that they must be very small and close to the planet. This satellite-progression idea was accepted in Swift's time, and it appears that he reflected this fact and incorporated it into his writings.
      The two arrangements, actual and theoretical, look like this:

      PLANET      Actual moons    Theoretical moons
      Mercury     0               0
      Venus       0               0
      EARTH       1               1
      Mars        2               2
      Jupiter     16              4
      Saturn      20+             8
      (Uranus)    15              16?
      (Neptune)   2               32?
      (Pluto)     1               64?

      (The last three planets were undiscovered at that period of history.)

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