Imagine the Moon

The Moon has been a source of wonder, inspiration, and knowledge for all of human history.  As people studied and recorded the patterns of the Moon’s movements, they discovered that the Moon was much more than a mysterious light in our sky—it was a place they might be able to visit some day.

Harmonia macrocosmica : sev Atlas universalis et novus, totius universi creati cosmographiam generalem, et novam exhibens : In quâ omnium totius mundi orbium harmonica constructio, secundum diversas diversorum authorum opiniones, ut & vranometria, seu totus orbis coelestis, ac planetarum theoriae, & terrestris globus, tàm planis & scenographicis iconibus, quàm descriptionibus novis ab[sic] oculos ponuntur ... / studio et labore Andreae Cellarii palatini ...Adler Planetarium

Ruler of the Night

In this 17th-century image the muse of Astronomy, Urania, is surrounded by a cohort of great astronomers while pointing up at a crescent Moon. The Sun and the Moon (shown on opposite sides) were long revered as the two luminaries - sources of light - with the Sun dominating the day, and the Moon the night. The ancient Greeks already knew that the Moon reflects light from the Sun. But its symbolism as the ruler of the night remains untouched

Manuscript fragment of teacher and student with armillary sphere.Adler Planetarium

A Gateway to the Cosmos

In this medieval illustration, a scholar lectures using an armillary sphere, a model of the Earth-centered cosmos of the Middle Ages. The Moon presides over the scene, featuring prominently in the sky above. Contemplating the Moon at night has long been a primal experience that connects us with the universe and makes us wonder about our place in it. 

Harmonia macrocosmica : seu, Atlas universalis et novus : totius universi creati cosmographiam generalem et novam exhibens : in quâ omnium totius mundi orbium harmonica constructio, secundum diversas diversorum authorum opiniones, ut & Vranometria, seu totus orbis c¶œestis, ac planetarum theoriµæ & terrestris globus, tam planis & scenographicis iconibus, quam descriptionibus novis ab oculos ponuntur : opus novum, antehac nunquam visum, cujuscunque conditionis hominibus utilissimum, jucundissimum, maxime necessarium, & adornatum / studio et labore AndreµæCellarii ...Adler Planetarium

Wax On Wax Off

These 17th-century illustrations explain the phases of the Moon. As the Moon orbits the Earth and the Earth orbits the Sun, earthlings see a changing portion of the Moon's sunlit area. Evocative of the cycles of life and death, the Moon phases are certain to have struck awe in early observers. Their cycle also provided a useful benchmark to keep track of time.

M372_001Adler Planetarium

Marking Time with the Moon

A lunar face peeks through an aperture in this perpetual calendar, a device that gave the phases of the Moon, the dates of holidays, and other elements over a period of several years. Tracking down the Moon’s motions and cycles was essential for civilizations to build calendars and set the dates of their festivities. Humanity cannot stop the flow of time, but the Moon has helped us take possession of it.  

Almagestum novum astronomiam veterem novamque complectens / Auctore P. Ioanne Baptista Ricciolo Societatis Iesu.Adler Planetarium

Moon Revolutions

In this 1651 image Urania weighs two models of the Universe, one centered on the Earth, the other on the Sun, while a cherub on top right holds the moon as it was seen through the telescope. By 1610 Galileo and others had noted a rough surface, similar to that of the Earth. The telescopic appearance of the Moon prompted the idea that the Earth is not substantially different from the celestial bodies, and thus might be just a planet orbiting the Sun, as it was eventually accepted.  

The discovery of a vvorld in the moone, or, A discourse tending to prove that 'tis probable there may be another habitable world in that planet.Adler Planetarium

“A Conveyance to this Other World”

The clergyman and scholar John Wilkins was one of several 17th-century writers who, enthused by the new telescopic discoveries, began to muse about travelling to the Moon and its habitability. Wilkins explored these ideas in various books, including this one, where he wrote “it may be possible for some of our posterity to find out a conveyance to this other world”. It took some time, but Wilkins was proven right.

Atlas coelestis in quo mundus spectabilis et in eodem stellarum omnium phoenomena notabilia ... secundum Nic. Copernici et ex parte Tychonis de Brahe hipothesin. Nostri intuitu, specialiter, respectu vero ad apparentias planetarum indagatu possibiles e planetis primariis, et e luna habito, generaliter e celeberrimorum astronomorum observationibus graphice de scripta exhibentur a Joh. Gabriele Doppelmaiero ...Adler Planetarium

“All of Our Friends Will Be There”

This 18th century print shows two different systems to name features on the moon, those of Hevelius (left), and of Riccioli (right). Hevelius used terms from classical geography, whereas Riccioli named lunar features after prominent scientists, an approach used to this day. The Moon thus came to represent the pursuit of knowledge, recognition, and in a sense, immortality. As J. Caramuel y Lobkowitz wishfully wrote in the 17th-century to a fellow scholar, “all of our friends will be there.” In this way, before we landed on the Moon, people had long been there symbolically.

CASSINI, Jean Dominique, Reduction de la grand carte de la luna de J. Dom. Cassini [Paris], [Cassini], [1788]. In. #5550Adler Planetarium

The Moon is for Lovers (and Stargazers)

In the 18th-century, instrument makers started to produce small telescopes for affluent society. This reworked version of a Moon map from 1679 was likely meant to assist that audience in their lunar observations. It comes with an easter egg: a woman’s head inscribed among the lunar features. It has been suggested it might depict the wife of Giovanni D. Cassini, author of the original 1679 map. See if you can find it! Need help? Scroll for the answer!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Answer: Look down to the bottom, just above the word "Heraclides".

"La Vue"Adler Planetarium

Moon’s in Town

This 19th-century print by Honoré Daumier presumably depicts a family in the streets of Paris contemplating a night sky dominated by a waning Moon. Urban growth and light pollution have deprived city dwellers of the sight of deep starry skies, but the Moon is visible even in today’s larger cities. It always comes to town as if to reconnect us with the sky above, and to remind us of our broader cosmic environs.

"Astronomie des dames"Adler Planetarium

Everyone’s Moon

This 19th-century illustration shows an exclusively female group engaging with the study of astronomy. A map of the Moon features at the center of the image. Women were long excluded or relegated to the background when it came to scientific pursuits.  The Moon is the same for all and we could not have landed on it without the contributions of female scientists and scientists of color. It took a long time before these people started to receive full credit for their scientific accomplishments, and much work remains to be done in that regard.

Full moonAdler Planetarium

Lunar Amusements

The Moon was the first celestial object to be photographed, some time between 1839 and 1840. Here the Moon is featured on a stereograph - a pair of photographs which, when seen through a stereoscope, produces an illusion of three-dimensionality. Stereographs became a popular amusement in the late 19th century. This one in particular is certain to have triggered excitement and curiosity about the Moon. When properly viewed, it shows the Moon as if floating in space right before the beholder’s eyes.

Popular astronomy : a general description of the heavens / by Camille Flammarion ; translated from the French with the author's sanction by J. Ellard Gore.Adler Planetarium

Looking Back and Ahead

In December 1968, the Apollo 8 astronauts became the first human beings to see the far side of the Moon with their own eyes. They were greeted with a view similar to what is depicted in this 19th-century illustration – the Earth rising above the Moon. Reaching out to the Moon made us look back at our cosmic dwellings from a broader perspective. As our human adventure unfolds, down here and in outer space, the Moon is certain to remain a faithful companion and a gateway to further exploration of our universe.  

Credits: Story

Thank you to the staff of the Adler Planetarium for their assistance in creating these images of our collection and this exhibition.

Still craving more lunar content? Check out what the Adler has in store (including a brand new sky show!) here:

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Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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