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Chapter XIII. Lunar Landscapes
At half-past two in the morning, the projectile was over the
thirteenth lunar parallel and at the effective distance of five
hundred miles, reduced by the glasses to five. It still seemed
impossible, however, that it could ever touch any part of the disc.
Its motive speed, comparatively so moderate, was inexplicable to
President Barbicane. At that distance from the moon it must have
been considerable, to enable it to bear up against her attraction.
Here was a phenomenon the cause of which escaped them again.
Besides, time failed them to investigate the cause. All lunar
relief was defiling under the eyes of the travelers, and they would
not lose a single detail.
Under the glasses the disc appeared at the distance of five
miles. What would an aeronaut, borne to this distance from the
earth, distinguish on its surface? We cannot say, since the
greatest ascension has not been more than 25,000 feet.
This, however, is an exact description of what Barbicane and his
companions saw at this height. Large patches of different colors
appeared on the disc. Selenographers are not agreed upon the nature
of these colors. There are several, and rather vividly marked.
Julius Schmidt pretends that, if the terrestrial oceans were dried
up, a Selenite observer could not distinguish on the globe a
greater diversity of shades between the oceans and the continental
plains than those on the moon present to a terrestrial observer.
According to him, the color common to the vast plains known by the
name of “seas” is a dark gray mixed with green and
brown. Some of the large craters present the same appearance.
Barbicane knew this opinion of the German selenographer, an opinion
shared by Boeer and Moedler. Observation has proved that right was
on their side, and not on that of some astronomers who admit the
existence of only gray on the moon’s surface. In some parts
green was very distinct, such as springs, according to Julius
Schmidt, from the seas of “Serenity and Humors.”
Barbicane also noticed large craters, without any interior cones,
which shed a bluish tint similar to the reflection of a sheet of
steel freshly polished. These colors belonged really to the lunar
disc, and did not result, as some astronomers say, either from the
imperfection in the objective of the glasses or from the
interposition of the terrestrial atmosphere.
Not a doubt existed in Barbicane’s mind with regard to it,
as he observed it through space, and so could not commit any
optical error. He considered the establishment of this fact as an
acquisition to science. Now, were these shades of green, belonging
to tropical vegetation, kept up by a low dense atmosphere? He could
not yet say.
Farther on, he noticed a reddish tint, quite defined. The same
shade had before been observed at the bottom of an isolated
enclosure, known by the name of Lichtenburg’s circle, which
is situated near the Hercynian mountains, on the borders of the
moon; but they could not tell the nature of it.
They were not more fortunate with regard to another peculiarity
of the disc, for they could not decide upon the cause of it.
Michel Ardan was watching near the president, when he noticed
long white lines, vividly lighted up by the direct rays of the sun.
It was a succession of luminous furrows, very different from the
radiation of Copernicus not long before; they ran parallel with
Michel, with his usual readiness, hastened to exclaim:
“Look there! cultivated fields!”
“Cultivated fields!” replied Nicholl, shrugging his
“Plowed, at all events,” retorted Michel Ardan;
“but what laborers those Selenites must be, and what giant
oxen they must harness to their plow to cut such
“They are not furrows,” said Barbicane; “they
“Rifts? stuff!” replied Michel mildly; “but
what do you mean by ‘rifts’ in the scientific
Barbicane immediately enlightened his companion as to what he
knew about lunar rifts. He knew that they were a kind of furrow
found on every part of the disc which was not mountainous; that
these furrows, generally isolated, measured from 400 to 500 leagues
in length; that their breadth varied from 1,000 to 1,500 yards, and
that their borders were strictly parallel; but he knew nothing more
either of their formation or their nature.
Barbicane, through his glasses, observed these rifts with great
attention. He noticed that their borders were formed of steep
declivities; they were long parallel ramparts, and with some small
amount of imagination he might have admitted the existence of long
lines of fortifications, raised by Selenite engineers. Of these
different rifts some were perfectly straight, as if cut by a line;
others were slightly curved, though still keeping their borders
parallel; some crossed each other, some cut through craters; here
they wound through ordinary cavities, such as Posidonius or
Petavius; there they wound through the seas, such as the “Sea
These natural accidents naturally excited the imaginations of
these terrestrial astronomers. The first observations had not
discovered these rifts. Neither Hevelius, Cassin, La Hire, nor
Herschel seemed to have known them. It was Schroeter who in 1789
first drew attention to them. Others followed who studied them, as
Pastorff, Gruithuysen, Boeer, and Moedler. At this time their
number amounts to seventy; but, if they have been counted, their
nature has not yet been determined; they are certainly not
fortifications, any more than they are the ancient beds of dried-up
rivers; for, on one side, the waters, so slight on the moon’s
surface, could never have worn such drains for themselves; and, on
the other, they often cross craters of great elevation.
We must, however, allow that Michel Ardan had “an
idea,” and that, without knowing it, he coincided in that
respect with Julius Schmidt.
“Why,” said he, “should not these
unaccountable appearances be simply phenomena of
“What do you mean?” asked Barbicane quickly.
“Do not excite yourself, my worthy president,”
replied Michel; “might it not be possible that the dark lines
forming that bastion were rows of trees regularly
“You stick to your vegetation, then?” said
“I like,” retorted Michel Ardan, “to explain
what you savants cannot explain; at least my hypotheses has the
advantage of indicating why these rifts disappear, or seem to
disappear, at certain seasons.”
“And for what reason?”
“For the reason that the trees become invisible when they
lose their leaves, and visible again when they regain
“Your explanation is ingenious, my dear companion,”
replied Barbicane, “but inadmissible.”
“Because, so to speak, there are no seasons on the
moon’s surface, and that, consequently, the phenomena of
vegetation of which you speak cannot occur.”
Indeed, the slight obliquity of the lunar axis keeps the sun at
an almost equal height in every latitude. Above the equatorial
regions the radiant orb almost invariably occupies the zenith, and
does not pass the limits of the horizon in the polar regions; thus,
according to each region, there reigns a perpetual winter, spring,
summer, or autumn, as in the planet Jupiter, whose axis is but
little inclined upon its orbit.
What origin do they attribute to these rifts? That is a question
difficult to solve. They are certainly anterior to the formation of
craters and circles, for several have introduced themselves by
breaking through their circular ramparts. Thus it may be that,
contemporary with the later geological epochs, they are due to the
expansion of natural forces.
But the projectile had now attained the fortieth degree of lunar
latitude, at a distance not exceeding 40 miles. Through the glasses
objects appeared to be only four miles distant.
At this point, under their feet, rose Mount Helicon, 1,520 feet
high, and round about the left rose moderate elevations, enclosing
a small portion of the “Sea of Rains,” under the name
of the Gulf of Iris. The terrestrial atmosphere would have to be
one hundred and seventy times more transparent than it is, to allow
astronomers to make perfect observations on the moon’s
surface; but in the void in which the projectile floated no fluid
interposed itself between the eye of the observer and the object
observed. And more, Barbicane found himself carried to a greater
distance than the most powerful telescopes had ever done before,
either that of Lord Rosse or that of the Rocky Mountains. He was,
therefore, under extremely favorable conditions for solving that
great question of the habitability of the moon; but the solution
still escaped him; he could distinguish nothing but desert beds,
immense plains, and toward the north, arid mountains. Not a work
betrayed the hand of man; not a ruin marked his course; not a group
of animals was to be seen indicating life, even in an inferior
degree. In no part was there life, in no part was there an
appearance of vegetation. Of the three kingdoms which share the
terrestrial globe between them, one alone was represented on the
lunar and that the mineral.
“Ah, indeed!” said Michel Ardan, a little out of
countenance; “then you see no one?”
“No,” answered Nicholl; “up to this time, not
a man, not an animal, not a tree! After all, whether the atmosphere
has taken refuge at the bottom of cavities, in the midst of the
circles, or even on the opposite face of the moon, we cannot
“Besides,” added Barbicane, “even to the most
piercing eye a man cannot be distinguished farther than three and a
half miles off; so that, if there are any Selenites, they can see
our projectile, but we cannot see them.”
Toward four in the morning, at the height of the fiftieth
parallel, the distance was reduced to 300 miles. To the left ran a
line of mountains capriciously shaped, lying in the full light. To
the right, on the contrary, lay a black hollow resembling a vast
well, unfathomable and gloomy, drilled into the lunar soil.
This hole was the “Black Lake”; it was Pluto, a deep
circle which can be conveniently studied from the earth, between
the last quarter and the new moon, when the shadows fall from west
This black color is rarely met with on the surface of the
satellite. As yet it has only been recognized in the depths of the
circle of Endymion, to the east of the “Cold Sea,” in
the northern hemisphere, and at the bottom of Grimaldi’s
circle, on the equator, toward the eastern border of the orb.
Pluto is an annular mountain, situated in 51°
north latitude, and 9° east longitude. Its circuit is forty-seven
miles long and thirty-two broad.
Barbicane regretted that they were not passing directly above
this vast opening. There was an abyss to fathom, perhaps some
mysterious phenomenon to surprise; but the projectile’s
course could not be altered. They must rigidly submit. They could
not guide a balloon, still less a projectile, when once enclosed
within its walls. Toward five in the morning the northern limits of
the “Sea of Rains” was at length passed. The mounts of
Condamine and Fontenelle remained— one on the right, the
other on the left. That part of the disc beginning with 60° was becoming quite mountainous. The glasses brought them
to within two miles, less than that separating the summit of Mont
Blanc from the level of the sea. The whole region was bristling
with spikes and circles. Toward the 60° Philolaus
stood predominant at a height of 5,550 feet with its elliptical
crater, and seen from this distance, the disc showed a very
fantastical appearance. Landscapes were presented to the eye under
very different conditions from those on the earth, and also very
inferior to them.
The moon having no atmosphere, the consequences arising from the
absence of this gaseous envelope have already been shown. No
twilight on her surface; night following day and day following
night with the suddenness of a lamp which is extinguished or
lighted amid profound darkness— no transition from cold to
heat, the temperature falling in an instant from boiling point to
the cold of space.
Another consequence of this want of air is that absolute
darkness reigns where the sun’s rays do not penetrate. That
which on earth is called diffusion of light, that luminous matter
which the air holds in suspension, which creates the twilight and
the daybreak, which produces the umbrae and penumbrae, and all the
magic of chiaro-oscuro, does not exist on the moon. Hence the
harshness of contrasts, which only admit of two colors, black and
white. If a Selenite were to shade his eyes from the sun’s
rays, the sky would seem absolutely black, and the stars would
shine to him as on the darkest night. Judge of the impression
produced on Barbicane and his three friends by this strange scene!
Their eyes were confused. They could no longer grasp the respective
distances of the different plains. A lunar landscape without the
softening of the phenomena of chiaro-oscuro could not be rendered
by an earthly landscape painter; it would be spots of ink on a
white page— nothing more.
This aspect was not altered even when the projectile, at the
height of 80°, was only separated from the moon by a distance of
fifty miles; nor even when, at five in the morning, it passed at
less than twenty-five miles from the mountain of Gioja, a distance
reduced by the glasses to a quarter of a mile. It seemed as if the
moon might be touched by the hand! It seemed impossible that,
before long, the projectile would not strike her, if only at the
north pole, the brilliant arch of which was so distinctly visible
on the black sky.
Michel Ardan wanted to open one of the scuttles and throw
himself on to the moon’s surface! A very useless attempt; for
if the projectile could not attain any point whatever of the
satellite, Michel, carried along by its motion, could not attain it
At that moment, at six o’clock, the lunar pole appeared.
The disc only presented to the travelers’ gaze one half
brilliantly lit up, while the other disappeared in the darkness.
Suddenly the projectile passed the line of demarcation between
intense light and absolute darkness, and was plunged in profound
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