Moonworks #1: Sea of Nectar

Craig Kalpakjian's proposal for a selenoglyph

Geoglyphs are large-scale drawings on the earth’s surface made by either adding or exposing different-coloured material. Historic and archaeological features such as the famous Nazca lines in Peru, or hill figures such as those found in England are examples. People are still making geoglyphs, including the Marree Man created by unknown artists (or vandals?) in the 1990s, and various works of the Land Art movement of the 1960s and 70s.

A recent story about Japanese plans to send an anthropomorphic robot to the Moon to draw a flag on the surface set me thinking about lunar geoglyphs. That term, like geology is derived from the Greek word for Earth, Ge. Selenoglyphs would be more appropriate, based on the Greek word for the moon, Selene. The discipline of lunar geology is called selenology, for example.

There are already selenoglyphs up there!

In the 1948 Bugs Bunny cartoon ‘Haredevil Hare’, the WWII catchphrase ‘Kilroy Was Here’ is seen scrawled on the side of a boulder – the famous Kilroy by implication having reached the moon first, as usual. Wernher von Braun worried that the Apollo missions might become simply ‘Kilroy Was Here’ events, but he probably wasn’t literally thinking about graffiti. Eugene Cernan proved unable to resist the promise of a message that would survive for geological ages when he wrote his daughter’s initials in the regolith (fellow astronaut Alan Bean has painted a picture of this).

On a larger scale the Soviets celebrated International Women’s Day, March 8, by inscribing figure 8s in the regolith with the tracks of Lunokhod 1 and 2 in the 1970s. It has been suggested that the figure 8s are actually depictions of breasts, which would stand in the tradition of terrestrial geoglyphs like the Cerne Abbas giant.

Artist Craig Kalpakjian has proposed a series of colossal symbols on the Moon (see the image to the right). I’d like to see what Moon landing deniers would say about that. I’m all in favour of such a project – it would be an inspiring reminder of human achievement (although the lights of lunar cities would be more inspiring!). Actually, if our civilisation collapsed, people might think it was selenites attempting CETI … maybe we should inscribe something like the Pioneer plaques, or some tips for rebuilding.

[Update 17 May 2010: I’ve been doing some more thinking about selenoglyphs and I came up with an idea for a glyph to commemorate and preserve knowledge of the moon landings … a human foot print.]

In a less-appealing but all too plausible vision of future selenoglyphs, there’s a company called Moon Publicity that is trying to sell a technique for engraving corporate logos on the moon’s surface. This reminded me of the famous Isaac Asimov short story ‘Buy Jupiter’, in which aliens purchase the rights to the king of planets to inscribe it with the slogan “Use Mizzarett Ergone Vertices for health and glowing heat!”

Asimov’s story was simply making use of bathos to create humour. The Moon Publicity proposal is awful – the Moon is the common heritage of mankind, in the words of the Moon Treaty, and using it to inscribe something as ephemeral as this season’s slogan for a relatively short-lived corporation is appalling.

Space heritage is something to consider here. The visible face of the Moon has natural and cultural value to every human being, and making significant – eternal – modifications to that isn’t a step to be taken lightly. I’ve argues something similar previously with regard to Venus, which is known worldwide for its brightness – it is the Morning/Evening Star. I’d suggest then that the albedo of the planet Venus is a treasure of our natural or cultural heritage and that future terraformers might have to preserve that.

Anyway, I’ve wandered away from the subject of selenoglyphics. To conclude, here’s a video from Moon Publicity: