lunar image of the month

september: hevelius moon map

During the 1960s the US and the USSR were racing to be the first to land on the Moon... but this was not the first international Moon-race! Three hundred years earlier the objective was to be the first to publish a map of the Moon and have their own lunar naming system become accepted, thus immortalising their preferred personal icons and patrons.

In 1647 the Polish astronomer Johannes Hewelke (better known as Hevelius, 1611-1687) published Selenographia, from which this image - prominently featuring the crater now known as Copernicus - is taken. It was the result of ten years of work, so it must have been a bitter blow when he was beaten by the Dutch astronomer, engineer and cartographer Michael van Langren (Langrenus, 1600-1675) whose Plenilunii Lumina Austriaca Philippica was published two years earlier.

Despite the magnificence of both works, the naming system eventually adopted universally was that of the Italian priest Giovanni Riccioli (1598-1671), as proposed in his New Almagest of 1651. Of Hevelius' 275 named features and Langrenus' 322, only a handful - including Hevelius' Alps, Apennines, and Pyrenees mountains - survive intact.

Image: Rice University Electronic Studio.