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JESUITICA: Hell on the Moon

max_hell_01You may be puzzled by the title of a crater on a map of the moon: Hell. This cold, barren feature is not named after the opposite of Heaven, but after an 18th-century Hungarian astronomer, Maximilian Holl, one of a family of 22 children from his father’s two marriages. Max changed his name to Hell, entered the Jesuits, and became director of the Vienna Observatory in 1756. As with many Jesuit scientists of the era, his curiosity was intense and wide-ranging. Among his 28 scientific publications are a study of the origins of the Sami, Finnish and Hungarian languages, an exploration of magnetic therapy, and a detailed observation of the 1769 transit of Venus. He helped to prepare an encyclopedia on the arctic regions of northern Norway, which was never published because, in a triumph of masonic obscurantism, the Jesuits were suppressed in 1773.