Explanation of the lumen cinereum in the moon.


No solid body is less heavy than the atmosphere.

[Footnote: 1. On the margin are the words tola romantina, tola—ferro stagnato (tinned iron); romantina is some special kind of sheet-iron no longer known by that name.]

Having proved that the part of the moon that shines consists of water, which mirrors the body of the sun and reflects the radiance it receives from it; and that, if these waters were devoid of waves, it would appear small, but of a radiance almost like the sun; —[5] It must now be shown whether the moon is a heavy or a light body: for, if it were a heavy body—admitting that at every grade of distance from the earth greater levity must prevail, so that water is lighter than the earth, and air than water, and fire than air and so on successively—it would seem that if the moon had density as it really has, it would have weight, and having weight, that it could not be sustained in the space where it is, and consequently that it would fall towards the centre of the universe and become united to the earth; or if not the moon itself, at least its waters would fall away and be lost from it, and descend towards the centre, leaving the moon without any and so devoid of lustre. But as this does not happen, as might in reason be expected, it is a manifest sign that the moon is surrounded by its own elements: that is to say water, air and fire; and thus is, of itself and by itself, suspended in that part of space, as our earth with its element is in this part of space; and that heavy bodies act in the midst of its elements just as other heavy bodies do in ours [Footnote 15: This passage would certainly seem to establish Leonardo’s claim to be regarded as the original discoverer of the cause of the ashy colour of the new moon (lumen cinereum). His observations however, having hitherto remained unknown to astronomers, Moestlin and Kepler have been credited with the discoveries which they made independently a century later.

Some disconnected notes treat of the same subject in MS. C. A. 239b; 718b and 719b; “Perche la luna cinta della parte alluminata dal sole in ponente, tra maggior splendore in mezzo a tal cerchio, che quando essa eclissava il sole. Questo accade perche nell’ eclissare il sole ella ombrava il nostro oceano, il qual caso non accade essendo in ponente, quando il sole alluma esso oceano.” The editors of the “Saggio” who first published this passage (page 12) add another short one about the seasons in the moon which I confess not to have seen in the original manuscript: “La luna ha ogni mese un verno e una state, e ha maggiori freddi e maggiori caldi, e i suoi equinozii son piu freddi de’ nostri.”]

When the eye is in the East and sees the moon in the West near to the setting sun, it sees it with its shaded portion surrounded by luminous portions; and the lateral and upper portion of this light is derived from the sun, and the lower portion from the ocean in the West, which receives the solar rays and reflects them on the lower waters of the moon, and indeed affords the part of the moon that is in shadow as much radiance as the moon gives the earth at midnight. Therefore it is not totally dark, and hence some have believed that the moon must in parts have a light of its own besides that which is given it by the sun; and this light is due, as has been said, to the above- mentioned cause,—that our seas are illuminated by the sun.

Again, it might be said that the circle of radiance shown by the moon when it and the sun are both in the West is wholly borrowed from the sun, when it, and the sun, and the eye are situated as is shown above.

[Footnote 23. 24: The larger of the two diagrams reproduced above stands between these two lines, and the smaller one is sketched in the margin. At the spot marked A Leonardo wrote corpo solare (solar body) in the larger diagram and Sole (sun) in the smaller one. At C luna (moon) is written and at B terra (the earth).]

Some might say that the air surrounding the moon as an element, catches the light of the sun as our atmosphere does, and that it is this which completes the luminous circle on the body of the moon.

Some have thought that the moon has a light of its own, but this opinion is false, because they have founded it on that dim light seen between the hornes of the new moon, which looks dark where it is close to the bright part, while against the darkness of the background it looks so light that many have taken it to be a ring of new radiance completing the circle where the tips of the horns illuminated by the sun cease to shine [Footnote 34: See Pl. CVIII, No. 5.]. And this difference of background arises from the fact that the portion of that background which is conterminous with the bright part of the moon, by comparison with that brightness looks darker than it is; while at the upper part, where a portion of the luminous circle is to be seen of uniform width, the result is that the moon, being brighter there than the medium or background on which it is seen by comparison with that darkness it looks more luminous at that edge than it is. And that brightness at such a time itself is derived from our ocean and other inland-seas. These are, at that time, illuminated by the sun which is already setting in such a way as that the sea then fulfils the same function to the dark side of the moon as the moon at its fifteenth day does to us when the sun is set. And the small amount of light which the dark side of the moon receives bears the same proportion to the light of that side which is illuminated, as that... [Footnote 42: Here the text breaks off; lines 43-52 are written on the margin.].

If you want to see how much brighter the shaded portion of the moon is than the background on which it is seen, conceal the luminous portion of the moon with your hand or with some other more distant object.

Taken from The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci edited by Jean Paul Richter, 1880.

Notebooks of Leonoardo da Vinci
XIV: Anatomy, Zoology and Physiology.
. . .
Of the nature of Sunlight.
Considerations as to the size of the sun.
On the luminousity of the moon.
Explanation of the lumen cinereum in the moon.
On the spots in the moon.
On the moon’s halo.
On instruments for observing the moon.
On the light of the stars.
Observations on the stars.
On history of astronomy.
Of time and its divisions.
. . .