The Moon is an average of 238,855 miles away; it takes moonlight approximately 1.3 seconds to reach Earth. But the average distance it is away from the Earth will keep increasing until one day; the planet Earth will no longer have a Moon orbiting it. Each year, it drifts an estimated 1.5 inches further away from Earth. This means that the Earth will no longer have an orbiting celestial body one day in the distant future. However, this won’t be for a very long time.
Seeing a significant drift of the Moon from the Earth isn’t going to happen in the reader’s lifetime unless they sign up for some fantastic life-extending or cryogenic technology. There are 63,360 inches in a mile. At the rate of 1.5-inch drift a year, it would take 42,240 years for the Moon to drift a further mile away from Earth which will be hardly noticeable when the it is already around 238,855 miles away.
How would the world react?
The question of the Moon drifting out of orbit from Earth has prompted a flurry of articles on scientific news websites asking and answering the question of what would it be like if the Earth had no Moon? How would it look, and what would it feel like?
Apart from ruining many a romantic dinner and moonlit stroll along the beach and the billions of dollars NASA gets off the taxpayer for missions to the Moon, would anything else that is significant happen? No doubt if it drifted away out of sight, space agencies such as NASA would still be trying to track it and visit it. So what other impact would there be, apart from ruined romantic dinners and beach strolls?
People have, over the centuries, become pretty fond of the Earth’s celestial body. It is considered a god in many ancient cultures. The fifth-century Greek philosopher Anaxagoras was arrested and exiled for sharing the theory that the Earth’s celestial body was an object, not a god.
Many cultures have believed that the lunar cycle impacted human behavior. According to the origin of the word “lunatic,” it was formerly believed that a full Moon might make people temporarily insane. If it were to disappear, perhaps there would be fewer lunatics?
Astronomers say what would happen if the Moon was gone tomorrow
The Moon is essential to the way of life on Earth. If it disappeared tomorrow, even without causing a violent event and massive tidal waves, ending patterns that have been around for thousands of years, it would become much harder for people to grow and produce food. Life would have to quickly adapt or go extinct.
Astronomy states that if there were no Moon, the size of low and high tides would change right away for people who live near the oceans. The tides would be smaller by more than half. Changes in the tides would significantly affect ecosystems all along the coast. Sea creatures like barnacles, crabs, mussels, and starfish would probably go extinct. It would mean that there would be fewer mussels and crabs for candlelit dinners already ruined by lack of moonlight, and probably wouldn’t be saying toasts to or praising the Lunar gods anymore.
Scientists speculate that land animals, especially those that hunt at night and need Lunar light, would be so confused that they would starve to death. Since all of Earth’s ecosystems depend on each other, the extinction of coastal sea life would set off a chain reaction that would make it hard for people to stay alive. Astronomers also state that the Moon’s gravity causes the Earth to tilt on its axis by 23.5 degrees.
Without the Moon, this tilt could change by as much as 45 degrees, which would change the seasons and climate of Earth. If the angle were closer to zero degrees, there would be no seasons; if it were more than zero degrees, the weather would change a lot, and there might even be a new ice age.
Astronomers probably haven’t thought of every variable outcome
Is the scientific theory above correct? Possibly not. As it would take 42,240 years for the Moon to move just a single mile further away from Earth, and it would have to move many thousands of miles not to be visible to Earth or in Earth’s orbit, that is a lot of time for sea creatures and land creatures, even humans to evolve to the changes.
Unless it instantly disappeared, one could speculate that it would cause violent interruption to tide patterns, possibly resulting in massive tidal waves. Scientific writers don’t address how the Moon would suddenly not be there or make allowances that in many tens of thousands of years, creatures on Earth could evolve to deal with the effects of it drifting away gradually.
How the Moon could potentially get destroyed
Researchers believe it likely that billions of years ago, a monster-sized asteroid collided with the Moon’s far side, causing a giant basin on its south pole, called the South Pole-Aitken, roughly 1,550 miles wide, covering nearly a quarter of the Moon. Perhaps another massive asteroid hit like that could maybe destroy it or alter its trajectory like one pool ball hitting another?
Another possibility is a wandering black hole could suck up the Moon.
The risks of the Moon vanishing don’t end with natural causes. Some people are prepared to do anything to prove military supremacy, even if it involves blowing it up as a show of strength. In 1958, the United States Air Force investigated the feasibility of detonating a massive nuclear weapon on its surface. Their plan coincided with the Russian space agency launching the Sputnik satellite into orbit.
According to the Guardian, the project that began in 1958 was a combination of a publicity stunt and a scientific experiment. It was not made public until 2000. Leonard Reiffel, the physicist in charge, detailed the wild plot. The military abandoned the plan when they concluded that the potential risks outweigh the potential benefits.
The insanity of the 1958 project didn’t deter lunar geologist Dr. Gary V. Latham, from trying to persuade NASA in 1969 to detonate a bomb on the Moon’s far side to test a pair of seismometers that a previous mission had left on the surface.
Although the 1958 and 1969 projects didn’t go ahead, the militarization of space could potentially mean that the Moon could become a target of weapons in the future as it becomes a place where weapons are stored as part of military projects or asteroid defense measures. There is a risk that the weapons deployed on the Moon in the future to protect us from asteroids could, if powerful enough, accidentally blow it up or be attacked by hostile states.
Films such as Moonfall, although scientific garbage, do get us to think about how vulnerable we are to changes in the Moon’s state. Suppose the movie Moonfall is anything to go by; in that case, even the four hostile alien races that a researcher considers may exist in the universe could theoretically use our Moon against us.
If the Moon were to disappear, one thing would be for sure an astronaut’s trip to it would never be the same again. It would undoubtedly inconvenience NASA’s plans for the Artemis Mission, causing another setback.
Feature image credit: S65-63873 Clouds over the Western Pacific by NASA