Mapping the Moon – John Russell’s Selenographia

On a recent trip to London I just had time to visit the “Out of this World” Science Fiction Exhibition in the British Library and was surprised to see one of my favourite objects displayed there – the Selenographia by English artist John Russell. It’s a globe of the Moon (and Earth) he produced in 1797, the culmination of 30 years work mapping the lunar surface with a small but powerful refractor given to him as a gift by his grateful portrait sitters.

The Selenographia (excuse the poor quality photo – hand held with no flash on a mobile phone. I saw it and just had to have a photo!)

Here’s one of John Russell’s pastels of the full Moon:

Science Photo Library

More of his beautiful lunar drawings can be found here.

This is what the National Maritime Museum says about John Russell and his Selenographia.

“John Russell’s Selenographia consists of a large lunar sphere and a small terrestrial sphere. It is constructed to reproduce the librations, or motions, of the Moon with respect to the Earth. Only one side is illustrated, the other is blank, since only one side of the Moon is visible from Earth. Russell (1745-1806) spent 30 years perfecting his map of the Moon, producing detailed drawings and inventing the Selenographia. He probably did not make the globes himself and the Selenographia was offered for sale with various stands.

Both the lunar and terrestrial spheres are made of papier mache covered with plaster and twelve full gores that are engraved, hand-coloured and varnished. The lunar sphere is mounted on a heavy brass hemisphere with parts cut away so that the resulting structure consists of one great circle oriented vertically, a concave circular disc centred on the pole and four circular arcs. The terrestrial globe is inclined at 66.5 degrees to the ecliptic and supported by a quarter circle rising from beneath the lunar globe. A number of different mechanisms represent the various relative motions of the Moon and the Earth. The whole is supported by a single-stem pedestal brass stand.

On the lunar sphere, two great circles, the lunar equator, and the lunar prime meridian, are drawn, but these are not graduated. The craters, the seas and the mountains are delicately drawn but no nomenclature is provided. The main craters are marked by a cross. The terrestrial sphere bears a simple outline of the continents and labels five oceans Tasmania is still drawn as a peninsula.”

From the Selenographia to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Don’t you just love serendipity?


Jules is a volunteer moderator for the Moon Zoo forum

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