Found Tesla on the Moon: It All Depends on How You “Spin” It!

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— Tom Gale

I found Tesla on the moon!  Well, his thoughts on the moon anyway… 

What do a sheep, a goat, the moon, Nikola Tesla and Chinese New Year have in common? NO, it’s not the beginning of a bad joke where Nikola Tesla walks into a bar in Chinatown with a goat under one arm and a sheep under the other! They actually do have something in common and it’s controversy … oh, and auspiciousness, of course!! What?!?  Hold on … we’ll get there!


Sheep versus Goat!

Chinese New Year began this week, February 19th, 2015. It is marked by the Lunar New Year and each new year is always represented by a different zodiac creature. The creatures repeat depending on the date and time. This year, the Chinese New Year is represented by the Goat … or is it a Sheep? It all depends on how you interpret the facts. One would think that something so commonly observed would be clear. It is a very old tradition and celebration. However, when one examines what appears, on the surface, to be obvious, it instantly creates debate! This particular creature is represented by the Chinese word “yang.” Yang can mean “goat,” or “sheep,” or “ram” depending on context. Given the geographic and cultural disparity among those who celebrate Chinese, or Lunar New Year, there is often debate about which is correct). In the end, though, everyone does agree that it is the year of the “Yang” and that the zodiac creature is a positive omen of auspiciousness, which is the most important thing to recognize!

Spin Doctor – Tesla on the Moon

What does all this talk about “Yang” have to do with Tesla? Well, February 1st of 1919 was also a Lunar New Year, and it also was the year of the “Yang” (i.e., goat/sheep/ram). However, it is also the date on which Tesla’s article called Famous Scientific Illusions, was published in The Electrical Experimenter.  In this article, Tesla describes “The Illusion of the Axial Rotation of the Moon.”   Anyone who has looked at the moon many times through a telescope, and certainly anyone in astronomy, knows that when we look at the moon, we only ever see one side of it, regardless of when you look at it and where on the planet you are when you look at it. This single-sided moon effect is created because, despite revolving around the earth, the moon always turns its face inward toward the Earth. The common scientific description for the motion of the moon is called “Synchronous Rotation” and it is simply explained by this image and also in the video below.

Spin by Any Other Name

Tesla didn’t challenge that the moon always faces the earth, but he did challenge the notion that it was rotating on its own axis and, in doing so, challenged the science of the day. Many in the scientific community sent letters after his article was posted and the New York Tribune published an Article chiding Tesla for his view. Tesla wrote rebuttals, but he also published two more articles on the subject in The Electrical Experimenter in order to clarify his argument ( one in April, 1919 called “The Moon’s Rotation” and another in June, 1919 by the same name “The Moon’s Rotation” ).  In the June article, Tesla gave a detailed description of his argument using mathematical principles of physics of angular, rotational, and translational motion to describe why he felt that the moon’s spin was not properly called rotation upon its own axis (for a primer on rotational and translational energy, see this video). The scientific community wasn’t prepared to concede and Tesla’s view on this topic is not one widely described or credited. Omission of Tesla’s views and a lack of credit is a common historical theme for Tesla, so this is not a surprise. However, Tesla’s description was a debate about a commonly observed phenomenon that, upon closer inspection, may not be as clear as it first seems. We all agree that the moon faces the earth with only one side as it revolves around the earth, but Tesla challenged our view of what we take to be the obvious mechanics behind that motion and the semantics behind those mechanics.


There are No Big Coincidences or Small Coincidences! There are Only Coincidences!

Sheep! Goat! Rotational motion! Translational Motion! Let’s call the whole thing off!

No matter where you come down on either of those two debates, there is a rather funny coincidence.   Tesla sparked a debate about the way we think about the motion of the moon on the very date of the Chinese Lunar New Year that is represented by “yang.” Both the “moon’s motion” and “yang” are commonly observed and thought to be commonly understood by the communities that observe them. Upon further examination, one can raise ambiguity and debate by focusing on what we all commonly “know” to be true. How curious that the date of Tesla’s article coincided with the ambiguous yang?

Another interesting coincidence is that “Yang” is the sign of “auspiciousness,” which is defined as “showing or suggesting that future success is likely.” Tesla is famously known for his statement:

“Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.” – Nikola Tesla

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