The moon in Saxony’s sciences – Part 3

The moon, as one of the most prominent celestial bodies, has been preoccupying humankind for millennia. In Saxony, too, the earth’s satellite, its orbital progression and its influence on various spheres in life have intrigued citizens, scholars, and regents alike. For a long time, trips to the moon remained wishful thinking. Meanwhile, high-resolution images and mineral samples even provide insights into the history of the earth’s companion. In millions of years, many fragments of the moon’s crust have eventually found their way to our planet. A part of a large meteorite is on exhibit in the Saxon town of Freiberg.

Astronomer and surveyor Wilhelm Gotthelf Lohrmann pursued systematic observations of the moon in Dresden. In 1824, he published his first maps there, titling them “Topography of the visible surface of the moon”. Three years later, Lohrmann was appointed chief inspector of the Mathematics and Physics Salon and subsequently, as the director of the newly founded Technical Academy, he was one of Ferdinand A. Lange’s teachers. Overall, Lohrmann drew 25 maps of the moon. It took 38 years before they were published in their entirety. For a very long time, they were considered the world’s most detailed renderings of the moon.

Before the moon became accessible by satellite or manned spacecraft, researchers and scientists had no option but to observe it from terra firma. Nonetheless, they hoped to be able to examine it first-hand one day. Joseph J. von Littrow, the director of the Imperial Royal Observatory in Vienna, expressed this yearning in “The wonders of the heavens”, a book he wrote in 1834. But he was not oblivious to the difficulties of such a venture:

“We could best become acquainted with it if we had the opportunity to travel to the moon and examine it in proximity. But since to our knowledge, no one has embarked on such a journey so far, we should first consider the likelihood that someone in our midst, at least in the future, might successfully execute an enterprise of this kind. First of all, the distance between us and the moon is quite large, even though it is the closest of all celestial bodies, and unless someone with particular patience and perseverance steps forth, we would all be better advised to stay at home.”

More than 100 years later, his vision came true: the first man set foot on the moon on 20 July 1969, and ten further astronauts followed suit in subsequent years. They brought mineral samples back from their adventurous forays, making it possible to identify the moon as the origin of meteorites. The world’s biggest specimen of a moon meteorite weighs nearly 1500 grammes and was discovered in Libya in 1998. A slice of this meteorite weighing about 45 grammes is on display at the “terra mineralia” collection in Freiberg, in the state of Saxony.

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