Reference Work Entry

Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

pp 703-705


Fauth, Philipp Johann Heinrich

Born Bad Dürkheim, (Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany), 19 March 1868

Died Gruenwald, Bavaria, Germany, 4 January 1941

Philipp Fauth was the last of the great lunar cartographers to rely principally on visual observations. The oldest of three children born into a long-established family of pottery-makers, his interest in astronomy was kindled at about the age of seven when he was awakened by his father and carried outside to see comet Coggia (C/1874 Q1) gleaming in the predawn sky. Like William Herschel , Fauth was a musical prodigy, having taken up the violin at the tender age of five. While music would remain a lifelong passion, Fauth chose to become a schoolteacher.

In 1890, Fauth established a private observatory atop a grass-covered knoll on the outskirts of Kaiserslautern. His observatory was equipped with a refractor of 162-mm aperture. In 1893 and again in 1895 he issued impressive monographs; the latter contained topographic charts of 25 selected regions of the Moon, masterfully executed in the hachure technique employed by all of the leading German selenographers after Wilhelm Lohrmann , and an announcement that the author intended to eventually produce a new lunar map on a scale of 1:1,000,000 that would be based on outlines derived from photographs, with finer details inserted from visual observations. Articles by Fauth began to appear frequently in the leading German astronomical journals, Astronomische Nachrichten and Sirius.

The depth of understanding of the nature of lunar topography demonstrated by Fauth was superior to that possessed by the majority of his contemporaries. The morphology revealed by his methodical measurements of the depth-to-diameter ratios of hundreds of lunar craters and the slopes of their exterior and interior walls led him to reject the prevailing volcanic theories of the origin of lunar craters.

Unfortunately, in 1906 Fauth advanced the idiosyncratic notion that “the Moon is covered with a thick rind of ice surrounding an ocean of liquid water, which in turn covered a rocky core.” His energies were increasingly diverted into a collaboration that was destined to have tragic consequences. Since 1894 he had been corresponding with a fellow amateur astronomer living in Vienna, Hanns Hörbiger , a former blacksmith’s apprentice who had taken up engineering and become a successful designer of valves, pumps, and mining equipment. Like Fauth, Hörbiger had long harbored notions of an icy Moon – the first of many astronomical theories that came to him in flashes of intuition, visions, and vivid dreams, as if they were the products of some form of mystical illumination. With the unwavering conviction of the delusional psychotic, Hörbiger embarked on a flurry of manic activity so all-consuming that it had to be interrupted by a rest cure taken on the advice of a physician. Observatories throughout central Europe were bombarded with letters and telegrams, often followed up by what must surely have been unwelcome personal visits.

Fauth was quickly converted, however, and soon became Hörbiger’s greatest disciple. For the next decade Fauth’s lunar mapping ground to a virtual standstill as he and Hörbiger labored to produce a magnum opus. The strange product of their collaboration was Hörbigers Glazial-Kosmogonie (Hörbiger’s glacial cosmogony), written mostly by Fauth but containing lengthy sections contributed by Hörbiger. It is a turgid, 790-page tome printed in double columns, replete with no fewer than 212 illustrations. Published in 1913 on the eve of World War I, Fauth called the book “my second life’s work.”

Hörbiger and Fauth attributed the swift and decisive rejection of their theories by “reactionary” astronomers to simple jealousy. Wanton alienation of the astronomical community ensued, with irreparable damage to Fauth’s reputation. To many, his name became anathema. Others who grudgingly admired his talents as an observer and cartographer regarded him as a virtual “idiot savant.”

Hörbiger died in 1931, embittered by the failure of the scientific community to embrace glacial cosmogony. Almost as if a spell had been broken, within a year of Hörbiger’s death Fauth issued a 16-section regional lunar atlas, the labor of an extended period of convalescence from a severe illness that had interrupted his observations. These magnificent charts were depictions on a huge scale of 1:200,000 of Copernicus, Eratosthenes, Ptolemaeus and other notable features, carefully corrected for foreshortening, and some rendered in carefully estimated contour lines rather than the hachures of his earlier work. He also announced that pencil drafts of the 22 sheets of his long-awaited Grosse Mondkarte (Large Moon Map) were all but complete. Its scale of 1:1,000,000 would correspond to a diameter of 3.5 m (11.5 ft.). Since Fauth incorporated almost 5,000 reference points – some based on measurements made with a visual micrometer by Julius Franz at the Königsberg and Breslau observatories, and others derived by Samuel Saunder from photographic negatives obtained at the Paris and Yerkes observatories – the atlas would surpass any previous achievement in lunar cartography not only in uniform richness of detail but in positional accuracy as well.

In 1936, Fauth’s most valuable work appeared. Entitled Unser Mond (Our Moon), it was described by the late Joseph Ashbrook as “the best of all observing guidebooks to the Moon’s surface,” but sadly it has remained virtually unknown to an English-speaking readership. Subtitled Neues Handbuch für Forscher nach Erfahrungen aus 52 Jahre Beobachtung (New handbook for researchers according to experiences from 52 years observation), it contains topographical descriptions of every major lunar formation, complete with summaries of their observational histories. It was meant to serve as the companion text to the still unfinished 1:1,000,000 map. Instead, it appeared in conjunction with a map of one-fourth that scale in 16 sections (the Obersichtkarte des Mondes or Overview Map of the Moon), which was intended to serve as a guide to nomenclature. While the glacial cosmogony was virtually banished to one of the appendices, age had not completely mellowed Fauth.

The rest of Fauth’s career can be briefly summarized. In 1937 he issued a large collection of drawings of formations located near the lunar limb, observed under conditions of especially favorable libration. Progress on the Grosse Mondkarte, however, remained painfully slow, since every night at the telescope revealed new features that he felt compelled to add. When Fauth died, he was satisfied that only five of the 22 sheets of the 1:1,000,000 map were complete. He was in the midst of preparations to move his observatory from Grünwald to a more favorable site at Rauhe Alb in Swabia and had just begun to commit his thoughts to paper for a final work, to be entitled Selenographie, Ein Weg zur Aufhellung von Welträtseln: Mein Bekenntnis und Vermächtnis an Künstige Mondbeobachter (Selenography, a path to shed light on the riddles of the Universe: My testament and bequest to future lunar observers).

Fauth’s 1:1,000,000 map was completed by his son Hermann, and finally printed in 1964. Unfortunately, the son did not draw with the skill and assurance of the father, so the final and long-awaited result was a disappointment as well as an anachronism. By then, the United States Air Force Aeronautical Chart and Information Center had undertaken the preparation of Lunar Astronautical Charts on the same 1:1,000,000 scale of the Grosse Mondkarte. These beautiful airbrushed maps, the product of inserting minute details glimpsed visually through the Lowell Observatory’s 24-in. refractor onto outlines of coarser features derived from the finest photographs obtained at several observatories, represented 8 years of work by a 22-member staff that included a dozen professional illustrators and cartographers. Recalling this fact makes Fauth’s solitary achievement all the more remarkable.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014
Show all