Immanuel Velikovsky shows how Jonathan Swift knew of the existence of the tiny Moons of Mars a century-and-a-half before they were discovered in 1877 — On Prediction in Science. An excerpt:
- Jonathan Swift, in his Gulliver’s Travels (1726) tells of the astronomers of the imaginary land of the Laputans who asserted they had discovered that the planet Mars has “two lesser stars, or satellites, which revolve about Mars, whereof the innermost is distant from the center of the primary planet exactly three of [its] diameters, and the outermost Five; the former revolves in the space of ten hours, and the latter in twenty-one-and-a-half; so that the squares of their periodical times are very near in the same proportion with the cubes of their distance from the center of Mars, which evidently shows them to be governed by the same law of gravitation that influences the other heavenly bodies.”
About this passage a literature of no mean number of authors grew in the years after 1877, when Asaph Hall, a New England carpenter turned astronomer, discovered the two trabants of Mars. They are between five and ten miles in diameter. They revolve on orbits close to their primary and in very short times: actually the inner one, Phobos, makes more than three revolutions in the time it takes Mars to complete one rotation on its axis; and were there intelligent beings on Mars they would need to count two different months according to the number of satellites (this is no special case – Jupiter has twelve moons and Saturn ten), and also observe one moon ending its month three times in one Martian day. It is a singular case in the solar system among the natural satellites that a moon completes one revolution before its primary finishes one rotation.
Swift ascribed to the Laputans some amazing knowledge – actually he himself displayed, it is claimed, an unusual gift of foreknowledge. The chorus of wonderment can be heard in the evaluation of C. P. Olivier in his article “Mars” written for the Encyclopedia Americana (1943):
“When it is noted how very close Swift came to the truth, not only in merely predicting two small moons but also the salient features of their orbits, there seems little doubt that this is the most astounding ’prophecy’ of the past thousand years as to whose full authenticity there is not a shadow of doubt.”
- Swift, being an ecclesiastical dignitary and a scholar, not just a satirist, could have learned of Kepler’s passage about two satellites of Mars; he could also have learned of them in Homer and Virgil where they are described in poetic language (actually, Asaph Hall named the discovered satellites by the very names the flaming trabants of Mars were known by from Homer and Virgil); and it is also not inconceivable that Swift learned of them in some old manuscript dating from the Middle Ages and relating some ancient knowledge from Arabian, or Persian, or Hindu, or Chinese sources.