September 24, 2010

THE MAN AND THE MOON

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Probably you have heard some weird things about the moon.

That it is hollow. That it’s an artificial structure. That there are military bases -- maybe even extraterrestrial bases -- on the dark side that we never can see.

Most of these notions don’t come from astronomers, you can be sure. In fact, it’s difficult to determine just how they got started.

The venerable “Old Man in the Moon” illusion has been around for a long time. The “Green Cheese” concept remains a puzzle to me. And the fact that “moon” rhymes with “June” has become an irritation. (Thankfully, “Moonlight in Vermont” avoids this cliché. In fact, none of the words rhyme.)

But I have to fess up, Vermont may well partly guilty of moon myth making. At least one slightly eccentric Vermonter left his mark in the skies above Bellows Falls during the late 19th century.

“Eccentric” might be the wrong word. In his day Seth Blake (August 21, 1817-June 25, 1904) was a well-liked and influential member of the community.

He was born in Brookfield and learned the printer’s trade in Montpelier. In 1839 he moved to Bellows Falls to work as a typesetter at the Bellows Falls Gazette. In 1844 Seth purchased the newspaper and expanded the business to include books and other printed material.

On August 16, 1842, he married Martha J. Glover of Concord, N. H. Together they had six sons and two daughters.

But even with professional standing and a good family, Seth Blake remained ambitious, destined for bigger things.

Two of his brothers were practicing dentists in Connecticut. Seth apprenticed himself to one of them, Amos Shepard Blake. After mastering the profession, Seth returned to Bellows Falls and hung out his shingle. It read:

Dr. S. M. Blake, Operations on Teeth.

Apparently he also crafted top quality, artful, porcelain false teeth, which were high-tech at the time.

His professional stature allowed him to influence local and even statewide events. For example, he was instrumental in bringing four railroads to town, which contributed tremendously to the area’s prosperity.

Dr. Blake was widely known as a writer and lecturer. During the civil war he argued persuasively and tirelessly for the preservation of the union.

Beyond seeing to the wellbeing of his town, state, and nation, Dr. Blake had some fascinating private interests. It is claimed he was the first to discover the true age of the great pyramid of Cheops. He invented what may have been the first combination lock for safes. And Dr. Blake had excellent eyesight. He was considered to be the best marksman with a rifle in this part of New England; he was known as a "crack shot."

The latter may relate to his greatest interest – astronomy.

Back in 1837 the youthful Seth Blake had observed large spots on the sun. The phenomenon piqued his curiosity, giving birth to a life-long avocation.

Even as a lad of twenty he had some knowledge of optics, so he built his own telescope. Later, when he was more prosperous, he purchased a 76 inch telescope for $225. It was bigger than and superior to most telescopes in the state. He had it mounted in a revolving observatory on top of his house at 75 Atkinson Street.

From there the dentist moonlighting as an astronomer made his first great discovery – a new star. Or rather an old star, one that appeared only intermittently.

Here’s an account from the St. Paul Daily Globe, September 22, 1885.

“Apropos to the new star which has made its appearance, astronomical records show that in the year 940 a bright star appeared and in course of time was lost to sight. Again in 1204 and in 1571 what was supposed to be the same star came within ken. Last winter [Dr.] S. M. Blake of Bellows Falls, Vt. happened to note that 314 years having passed since it last appeared; he supposed that it might be due again about this time. So during the last few months he swept the sky with his glass, and on the 27th of August discovered the newcomer in Andromeda. He foretells that in the next twelve months it will grow so bright as to rival Jupiter and then it will disappear. It will probably not be seen again until more than three hundred years have again rolled away.”

But here’s the thing: Dr. Blake was convinced he had identified the Star of Bethlehem, the same star that the Three Magi followed to where it cast its light upon the manger in which Jesus was born.

Gary Nowak, former president of the Vermont Astronomical Society, tells me that what Dr. Blake actually saw the Supernova in M31 "the Andromeda Galaxy". Of course Dr. Blake couldn’t know what a Supernova was. As Gary explains it, “The supernova is like a giant firecracker going off. Once the firecracker explodes with a brilliant flash, that's it, and there is not much left of anything. Certainly the scattered gas and dust particles from the supernova explosion will not light up again.”

And – though he got a lot of press at the time – Dr. Blake was not the first to discover it. The “first discovery” was credited to E. Hartwig for his August 20, 1885 observation.

But the irrepressible Dr. Blake kept watching the skies, and soon he was to make a most startling discovery.

He first announced it in The Bellow Falls Times on December 15, 1887. And what an announcement it was!

Okay. Now before we go on, remember that Seth Blake computed the age of great pyramid. Discovered a supernova. And, perhaps most important, he had extraordinary eyesight. So, he announced…

A NEW DISCOVERY

The Moon has Been Inhabited

Dr. Blake starts by saying that published pictures of the moon, specifically those that ran in the March 1885 issue of “Century Magazine”, are inaccurate. He doesn’t go so far as to say any photographs have been doctored, but he does assert that he was able to see something no one else had discovered – gigantic structures on the moon! Perhaps the remains of a whole lunar civilization!

“For nearly forty years, with the aid of a telescope,” Seth writes, “[I have] made the study of the moon a kind of specialty, hoping all the while to find some evidence that our satellite has, at some period of the past, been the abode of life and intelligence.”

So, apparently he got exactly what he hoped for.

Dr. Blake admits it requires courage to speak out when other scientists have heralded the impossibility of lunar life, be he goes on to reveal what he saw, and gives precise coordinates so that others can see it, too.

Between the crater Archimedes and the Apennine Mountains he discovered "a vast wall of more than two hundred miles in extent, and a figure suggesting the letter B (for Blake?) with the lower end of the letter unfinished!"

At its top the wall forms a 90 degree angle and extends to the left, in a perfectly straight line, some thirty miles!

“This wall, he wrote, “is arranged in sections, and each section is of the same height, length, and thickness.”

He described the top of these sections as being "oval or domed-shape, and … appear as if covered over with some kind of silicious or glossy substance."

Glossy? Why should that be?”

“To utilize our earth-shine in lighting up the darkness of their long and dreary nights. Behold the great mirrors that send forth their beams of light across their continents and what was once their seas!"

Close to this wall he discerned "a great ship canal," two hundred miles long, six miles wide, and several feet deep, "cut as straight as a line could be drawn, and whose bottom is as smooth as if paved with granite blocks."

He attributed all this oversized construction work to "a race of men far superior in physical power to any type of human family that have peopled this earth since history, or even tradition, began."

And – you might ask -- why was Dr. Seth Blake of Bellows Falls, Vermont the only scientist or astronomer to discover these massive ruins on the moon?

Well, essentially, says Dr. Blake, because they weren’t looking for them. "Their great magnitude being so much out of proportion to anything looked for as a work of human accomplishment is probably the reason why they have not been recognized before."

In short, Dr. Blake believed he had discovered proof irrefutable that the moon had once been inhabited. That the inhabitants, no doubt larger, stronger, and more advanced than mere earthlings, had for some reason vanished. And the remains of their once thriving civilization had been overlooked for centuries simply because no one expected it to be there.

Well, maybe.

Dr. Blake was so certain of his discoveries that he would not even entertain the arguments of skeptics. He challenged them to look and see for themselves. "See all this," he said, "and then tell us who can, that the moon was never inhabited."

Dr. Blake had no explanation for why the moon civilization ended and what caused the water and atmosphere to disappear. He couldn’t even judge when the tragedy occurred.

But the stubborn dentist, who lived to be 88 years old, never withdrew his theory of giant moon men, colossal constructions, and a vast system of canals.

As with his Star of Bethlehem discovery, Dr. Blake received little to no support from the scientific community.

Perhaps, since he first announced his discovery, the moon monuments have continued their disintegration into dust, for they are not visible to any modern telescopes nor were they discovered by our Apollo Astronauts.

Perhaps the final word on this science fiction drama came in 1969 when Dr. Blake’s telescope was in the possession of his grandson, Harry Blake, of Claremont, New Hampshire. Mr. Blake invited members of the Bellows Falls Historical Society to his home to watch mankind's first lunar journey, the Apollo 11 Astronauts on their way to the moon. They all watched the drama unfold through Dr. Seth Blake's telescope.

NOTE: Thanks for all the research help from astronomer Gary Nowak, Bellows Falls librarians Emily Zervas & Sam Maskell, and web wizard Jason Smiley.