Without the moon, how would Earth's environment be affected? Would we survive?
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Oh hey there BrainStuff. I'm Lauren. And it's time you and I had a talk... about the moon.
I know we haven’t been there in a while, but… it’s pretty rad. We think that about 4.5 billion years ago, something the size of Mars crashed into Earth and ricocheted into space to form the Moon. It even took some of Earth’s mantle with it. So there’s ancient chunks of our planet merged with space stuff up there, just hanging out in orbit.
But even with all that, I’m not sure the moon gets all the credit it deserves. If it wasn’t there, things would be a lot different here on our little blue planet.
First, we'd see some pretty dramatic changes to the ocean. The moon is responsible for most of the effects of tides. Without it, the tides would only be a third of the size they are now. This is because the sun would account for the major gravitational pull affecting the altitude of the ocean. And while the sun is way bigger than the moon (like 400 times bigger), it is also much further away. So the tides it creates only have about 40% of the strength of our current lunar tides.
Surfing wouldn’t be the only thing that suffered. Lots of ecosystems rely on the motion and changes of the tides to sustain them. Plus, the moon holds a bulge of tidal water around Earth’s middle that would disperse without its gravity, changing coastlines around the world.
Also, did you know that the moon helps slow down the rotation of Earth? Yep, without it we wouldn't have 24-hour days. They'd be more like 6-8 hours long. We'd have to remake our calendar to accommodate between one thousand one hundred and one thousand four hundred days per year. Not only would that screw up all of our schedules, but a faster rotation would also increase the amount of wind and storms on our planet.
If that's not enough extreme climate change for you, "no moon" would also destabilize the Earth's axis, unpredictably changing our tilt with side effects that would render the planet inhospitable to lots of its creatures.
Right now we're tilted at a lovely 23 degrees, which gives us relatively mild seasons and environments. But the moon acts as an external force that stabilizes that angle. Without it we could wobble anywhere between zero degrees (with no seasons and barely any sunlight) to 85 degrees, where the planet would fall over on its side like a kitten on a catnip high. Mars, for example, wobbles between only 15 and 35 degrees, and it experiences drastic climate changes where ice drifts all the way from its poles to its equator.
Finally, gang... I don't know if you've noticed, but the moon's pretty darn bright up there in the middle of the night. Sure, the sun is four-hundred-thousand times brighter. But sometimes it still hits your eye… you know, like a big pizza pie. Which means that without it, our nights would be a lot darker than we're used to. Try stumbling around in the woods without a moon and see how you like it.
Siegal, Ethan. "The top 5 things we'd miss if we didn't have a moon." ScienceBlogs. Aug. 8, 2013. (June 26, 2014) http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2013/08/08/the-top-5-things-wed-miss-if-we-didnt-have-a-moon/
Foing, Bernard. "If we had no moon." Astrobiology Magazine. Oct. 29, 2007. (June 26, 2014) http://www.astrobio.net/topic/exploration/moon-to-mars/if-we-had-no-moon/
Lunar and Planetary Institute. "Moon becomes geologically inactive." Universities Space Research Association. (June 26, 2014) http://www.lpi.usra.edu/education/timeline/gallery/slide_29.html
Masters, Karen and Carter, Lynn. "What would happen if we did not have a moon?" Cornell University. 2000. (June 26, 2014) http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=104
ScienceLine. "How does the moon control the tides?" University of California Santa Barbara. (June 26, 2014) http://scienceline.ucsb.edu/getkey.php?key=353
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