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I remember reading a about some rocket pioneer who had proposed that if a rocket were launched to the moon, one way to prove that it had reached the moon would be to detonate a large quantity of gunpowder when it hit the moon's surface so that the explosion would be visible from Earth.

Now I've forgotten who had proposed that, and I can't find it. I thought it was maybe Goddard, but I couldn't find any mention of it. Who proposed that experiment (if I'm not entirely misremembering it)?

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  • $\begingroup$ I know that the space-art isn't a perfect fit, but it is a "performance" that if large enough could be visible by many. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 11 '20 at 7:55
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I suppose it's space art in the same way that that flag-planting is space art. $\endgroup$ – SE - stop firing the good guys Nov 11 '20 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ Could it have been Cyrano de Bergerac? Gunpowder is mentioned, but I have not read the original story to see if a display was considered. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 11 '20 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ Did not find it in the book of John Wilkins $\endgroup$ – SE - stop firing the good guys Nov 11 '20 at 10:11
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Looks like it was indeed Goddard. Key search term was 'flash powder' not gunpowder.

The Smithsonian has a

box built and used by American rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard in experiments in 1916 to determine the amount of magnesium flash powder to be carried in a unmanned rocket to strike the surface of the Moon to signal its arrival.

Source: https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/box-magnesium-powder-experiment-rh-goddard/nasm_A19650313000

It's mentioned in his famous paper A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes

The only reliable procedure would be to send the smallest mass of flash powder possible to the dark surface of the Moon when in conjunction (i.e., the “new” Moon), in such a way that it would be ignited on impact. The light would then be visible in a powerful telescope. Further, the larger the aperture of the telescope, the greater would be the ease of seeing the flash, from the fact that a telescope enhances the brightness of point sources and dims a faint background.

screenshot of source

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  • $\begingroup$ But magnesium flash powder needs a gaseous oxidizer, mostly oxygen. A transparent case is also needed. No flash in a vacuum. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Nov 11 '20 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Uwe the linked paper states that he tested the flash powder in evacuated tubes "to approximate the conditions at the moon". It sounds like it has some kind of oxidizer mixed in with the magnesium - "Victor flash powder was...superior to...powdered magnesium and sodium nitrate...and...superior to... powdered magnesium and potassium chlorate." $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Nov 11 '20 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ The photo flashbulbs used decades ago were filled with gaseous oxygen. de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blitzlichtbirne#Geschichte , no english translation available. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Nov 11 '20 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, it makes more sense as a proposal from 1916. When reading the question, I assumed the proposal was from the space age and I was surprised that the initial proposal wasn't "just put a nuke on it," as that seemed to be the proposed solution for everything else around the time of the space age. $\endgroup$ – reirab Nov 11 '20 at 22:07

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