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What If We Had No Moon?

Updated on November 10, 2014

Earth's Natural Satellite

A perfect full moon.
A perfect full moon. | Source

Did You Know?

During the period of extreme bombardment, the Earth was actually hit more often than the Moon, on account of it being larger and thus having a far greater gravitational pull. But due to the forces of erosion and tectonics, the Earth bares less scars today than the Moon.

Life on the Moon?

The bombardment explosions caused bits and pieces of the Earth to fly out all over the Solar System. Some managed to land on the the Moon, meaning that there could be a few hundred kilograms of ‘Earth’ per square kilometre on the Moon’s surface. These rocks are all in excess of 3.5 billion years old, but may harbour some of the earliest forms of life, immaculately fossilised within the rock. Future trips to the Moon could help unlock precious secrets about how life originated on Earth.

How the Moon Came to be

Nearly 4.5 billion years ago a huge dying star finally terminated itself, exploding violently. The awesome supernova, spewed out billions of tonnes of gasses, elements and rock widely across the cosmos. Out of the ashes of such a cataclysmic event, our solar system formed, including our own world, Planet Earth. Initially, the chances of our planet being able to harbour life were extremely low; Earth was a toxic, poisonous world. But 30 million years later, a mere blink of the cosmological eye, Earth’s seemingly bleak future was changed forever.

A huge planet, roughly the same size as Mars struck our world, which was nothing more than a magma ocean. The two worlds smashed into each other at an oblique angle, thus meaning that this planet, known as Theia did not destroy the Earth. Instead the worlds fused together, while a small part of the magmatic mantle was removed and thrust back into space. However, this mantle was unable to escape the gravitational pull of its parent world, and thus began a never ending orbit. Eventually, this relatively small chunk of mantle grew larger with the fusion of smaller pieces of debris, from both Earth and Theia. Eventually, the situation stabilised, and this small chunk of mantle became our Moon.

Initially the Moon was extraordinarily close to our world. Perhaps as little as 20,000 kilometres away, meaning it would have been 20 times bigger in the sky. At the time, Earth was lifeless, so no living creatures ever got the chance to witness such a beautiful scene.

Today, the Moon is mostly known as the force that affects the daily push and pull of the tides. But back in its infancy, the tidal affects on the magma covered Earth would have been even greater. So much so, that the Moon may have in fact prevented the Earth from cooling down for hundreds of millions of years.

Eventually, our world began to cool, and the first crust or land began to float on top of the rapidly dissipating magma. Earth was gradually transforming from a toxic planet into a blue planet, all of the ingredients need to create life were beginning to materialise. However, while the Earth was stabilising, it faced one of the most dangerous periods in its history. Initially, the formation of the Solar System had seen a period of extremely heavy bombardment, but had soon fallen into decline once the Solar System had taken on the appearance that we recognise today. However, around 500 million years after the formation of the Earth and the Moon, the age of intense bombardment returned, and lasted for about 100 million years. Scientifically, this extremely violent period in Earth’s history is known as ‘the late heavy bombardment’. While evidence for this violent period are scarce on Earth, due to the processes of erosion, the Moon’s deep craters serve as fantastic scars, that literally helps us to gaze backwards in time.

The Rise and Fall of the Tides Sped Up

The Humboldt Stream

The Humboldt Stream plays a major role in the climates of Peru, Chile and the Pacific nations. The Moon's tides have a strong impact on ocean currents, and consequently on the climate as well.
The Humboldt Stream plays a major role in the climates of Peru, Chile and the Pacific nations. The Moon's tides have a strong impact on ocean currents, and consequently on the climate as well. | Source

The Moon and our Climate

The most obvious way that the Moon affects our world is the gradual raising and lowering of the oceanic tides. But the affect isn’t uniform across the world; different areas are subject to more extreme tides. For instance, in the English Channel, the tidal range (the difference between high and low tide) can be as much as ten metres or 32 feet, while in the Pacific the typical range seen is less than a metre or three feet.

The Moon also affects the Earth’s crust. Basically the rise and fall of the tides causes significant heating and dissipation of energy to occur. A part of this energy heats the Earth, while another part is ejected into space, causing the Moon to gradually recede from the Earth over time. But don’t get panicking about the Moon someday vanishing completely, the Moon recedes about an inch a year away from us, so the celestial dance that began billions of years ago has a long way to go yet.

There is even a rather intriguing theory that suggests that the Moon’s tidal effects may have helped trigger the convection that led to the plate tectonic cycle we recognise today (earthquakes, continental drift and volcanism etc). The other planets don’t have the same cycle, and for the most part, their crusts simply sit motionless, barely budging an inch. As a result the magma and heat stored deep inside are prevented from reaching the surface. Earth’s crust acts very differently, moving frequently via a rolling convective motion that drags it across the planet, before eventually plunging it back into the mantle where it gets recycled.

The Moon also has subtle effects on the Earth’s climate and the ocean currents. One such pattern uncovered recently is the famous El Nino phenomenon that occurs in the Pacific Ocean. How it works, is that you have a cold undersea current coming up from the Antarctic, which keeps the sea around the coasts of Peru and Chile colder than they should be. Consequently, there are fewer clouds, and thus less rain and snow. Occasionally, this oceanic current, known as the Humboldt Stream drifts away from the coast, which radically alters the climate of Peru and Chile, bringing much needed rain. At the same time, this tiny shift has a marked effect on Australia’s climate, often causing droughts that can last years, sometimes up to a decade.

In recent times, satellites have closely monitored the Humboldt Steam and have additionally found other streams that were totally unknown before. Through intense study, they can connect some of these streams with how the Moon’s effects on the tides influences the various streams found right across the world.

If the Moon were to suddenly disappear, then a marked change would occur, with regards to the global altitude of the ocean. Presently, a disproportionate amount of water is sent to the tropical regions. So if the effect were taken away, then this water would be redistributed towards the Polar Regions. So an Earth without the Moon would see the tropical regions dry up almost instantly, whilst both the northern and southern most extremes of our planet would experience more precipitation than we see at present.

The Earth's Axis

Without the Moon, the Earth would be more unstable on it axis, leading to a far more erratic climate seen at present.
Without the Moon, the Earth would be more unstable on it axis, leading to a far more erratic climate seen at present. | Source

A Stabilising Factor

One of the most important ways that the Moon affects its parent planet is that it helps to stabilise its orbit, by ensuring it remains steady on its axis of rotation. It may sound trivial, but a quick look at our closest neighbour reveals just how important this stabilising affect is. Mars has wobbled quite dramatically on its axis over time, largely due to the gravitational influence of the other planets. If Earth had a similarly unstable orbit, the ice now presently at the poles could have easily swept down to the equator and back again. Thanks to the Moon, the changes in climate over time have been far less dramatic. Only on a relatively stable world such as ours, could complex multi cellular organisms like us evolve and survive. Without the Moon, only the smallest, simplest and most robust organisms could survive.

Phases of the Moon

By observing the phases of the Moon. We were able to track the passage of time more accurately.
By observing the phases of the Moon. We were able to track the passage of time more accurately. | Source

The Moon and Culture

Islam uses the lunar calendar to track the passage of time, and has also adopted it as a religious symbol.
Islam uses the lunar calendar to track the passage of time, and has also adopted it as a religious symbol. | Source

One Giant Leap for Mankind

Humans have been fascinated by the Moon for thousands of years. The fascination proved strong enough for the USA to eventually land three astronauts on the Moon's surface in 1969.
Humans have been fascinated by the Moon for thousands of years. The fascination proved strong enough for the USA to eventually land three astronauts on the Moon's surface in 1969. | Source

The Moon and Us

The Moon’s influence over the Earth stretches even further than oceans and climate, right down to us and the rest of life on Earth. For example, right around the world, along the coastlines there are a menagerie of species that are specifically adapted to the salt water conditions based on the gradual ebb and flow of the tides.

Closer to home, the eyesight of many mammals are very sensitive to moonlight. Without the Moon, the meaning of night vision would take on a whole different meaning. Indeed, many species have evolved in such a way that they can see perfectly even when the Moon is only partially illuminated, because that’s when they are most active. But of course, the danger of having night vision makes you more vulnerable to predators that also possess night vision. You could argue that the Moon played, and still plays a major role in the arms race between predator and prey.

As for us, our vision is so sensitive that we are virtually able to work by the light of the Milky Way alone. A full Moon actually has more light than we require to see at night. Remember that for most of our history, we lived as hunter gatherers, and many of our activities were actually organised by viewing the Moon. It helped us to determine the best time to hunt, gather and even break camp and move on. Later on, many early civilisations relied on the Moon to judge the best time to gather the harvest. That’s why the lunar calendar was so prevalent in ancient history, and indeed the Islamic calendar still follows the lunar cycle.

The Moon also played a major role in the emergence and understanding of science. It helped us to understand our place in the universe, we learnt how to determine distances in the Solar System, and also gauge the size of distant celestial objects. By studying the phases of the Moon, people were also able to determine accurately how far away the Moon is from Earth, it also helped us calculate the size of the Earth and how far away we are from the sun. In recent times of course, the Moon was the scene of the culmination of a space race between the two most powerful nations on the planet. The desire to set foot on the Moon opened the door for the monumental technical and scientific achievements that we often take for granted today. It quite simply fired our imaginations, and inspired us to leave our cradle and print our feet on new worlds. So the next time, you stare up at a full Moon, think about what would happen if it were ever to disappear forever.

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    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 3 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much Rebecca.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Very interesting! I never have considered the moon as being a reason for our existence, but your're right! Voted interesting and awesome,

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 3 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much Tim.

    • profile image

      tim 3 years ago

      what a great description about the moon and its importance to us. thanks a lot for your kind words.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much for your kind words Alun. Really appreciate it!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

      Good, comprehensive account of the many ways in which the Moon impacts on the history, geology, climatology and biology of Earth. Undoubtedly the Moon has - relatively speaking - a greater influence on the Earth than any other moon does on its host planet due to its large size and closeness to the planet. And notably it has a huge influence on life.

      You mention the life which relies on the ebb and flow of the tides. There is indeed a school of thought that life could only first venture on to land because of the way in which the tides eased the drastic change between conditions in salt water and conditions on land.

      Certainly, as you make clear, we should never look at the Moon in a blasé way as just a lump of rock in the sky. A nice clear read James, and I also really like the video of the tidal change in Nova Scotia. Voted up.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much, and you're right- the moon could be called a gift from nature. It certainly makes our lives a lot easier than they would be if it wasn't there.

    • pramodgokhale profile image

      pramodgokhale 4 years ago from Pune( India)

      Moon is a natures gift. We thank.

      interesting hub.

      thank you.

      pramodgokhale

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much Cydro- I really appreciate your kind words.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I know, that's the beauty of nature, everything just seems to work, even if there is no obvious explanation at first. Thanks for popping by.

    • cydro profile image

      Blake Atkinson 4 years ago from Kentucky

      This is a top quality idea for a hub. Not only is it a good idea, but you also followed through with great quality. Thanks for making me feel a little smarter!

    • Blake Flannery profile image

      Blake Flannery 4 years ago from United States

      It's amazing how everything just seems to work together so well, i.e. the moon stabilizing the earth's orbit. When I read really informative and interesting things like this, I feel a sense of amazement and wonder. Thanks for putting this together.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much Rock.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much Joseph, glad to have been of service.

    • Rock_nj profile image

      John Coviello 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Very Interesting and Well Done! Thanks for this informative Hub!

    • Joseph Renne profile image

      Joseph Renne 4 years ago from Milton

      Nice Hub! Great info, You sparked an Idea That Will Start My Newest Hub. Thanks.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks a lot Glenn, the one thing I wasn't aware of before I wrote this was the fact that the moon is steadily moving away from us, but very, very slowly. We'll likely be long gone before Earth notices its absence. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I found this to be a very educational hub that you wrote. I thought I knew quite a bit about the moon but I learned an awful lot more from you just now.

      It was extremely interesting to learn new things about the moon that I didn't know, such as the way it keeps the Earth stable on its axes. You explained it well when you said that Mars is not stable as it is affected by the other planets. It's clear that the other planets would affect the Earth much more if it wasn't for our Moon's gravity giving us some stability.

      Great work. Voted up.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks for that knowl...I don't know, you can proofread a hub loads of times and yet mistakes still pop up, so I appreciate that. Thanks very much for visiting.

    • knowl profile image

      knowl 5 years ago from Tandil

      Very interesting hub, I loved the part of the video about Theia's collision to Earth, I didn't know we called this planet "Theia" by the way, I've always heard of it (on NatGeo, Discovery Channel, etc, I watch those channels a lot) as a "celestial body the size of Mars", no one ever bothered to name it.

      Just a tiny correction if you want to check the part where it says "Some managed to land on the land on the Moon", you have "land on the" twice there :p

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you Ian, I wasn't sure about the plate tectonics idea either, but it's only a theory isn't it!

      That Roman quiz sounds interesting, I'll check it out, most definitely. Thanks for popping by.

    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      What a readable Hub again - you should write text books for kids!

      I've heard about the plate tectonics idea before - not sure if I'm convinced. It seems to me that the convection is caused more by temperature differences within the Earth's Mantle. The moon's gravitational force intuitively doesn't feel strong enough to cause such a huge effect. But I haven't done the maths!!!!

      BTW - new Roman quiz over at my place - you'll walk it!

      Ian.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks very much Richawriter. It's truly amazing just how dependent we really are on the Moon. Thank you for stopping by.

    • Richawriter profile image

      Richard J ONeill 5 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Excellent hub and brilliant descriptions of how our Earth and our life-giving moon were created.

      You write about some great topics here mate.

      Keep up the good work!

      Rich.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much Debby, very much appreciate your kind words. Thanks for the follow and the fan mail. Blessings to you too.

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 5 years ago

      Dear James ~ Simply fabulous Hub. Thanks for the movie "Earth and Theia" and all the gathered information about the evolution of our planet and neighboring moon. Blessings, Debby

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      No problem Letitia, thank you very much for dropping by.

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      Fascinating. I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of Theia. Thanks!

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Yes, you're right, I got lucky because we've had rain showers and overcast skies almost constantly for a month. Last night was the first time I'd seen a full moon for quite a while.

    • Adsenseonline profile image

      Adsenseonline 5 years ago

      excellent stuff . Glad you could see it i had my telescope and camera all primed up. But unfortunately no luck at all!

      That's the way the cookie crumbles with astronomy

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Adsenseonline, you've hit the nail on the head, that's what this hub is all about. No moon means no life on earth. Last night, after finishing this hub, I went outside and was lucky to catch a glimpse of a bright full moon. Perfect!

    • Adsenseonline profile image

      Adsenseonline 5 years ago

      In a nutshell no moon . No life on earth.

      Earth depends greatly on the moon for the seas tidal force.I love the moon and always have. I also make lunar observations and couldn't imagine our nearest celestial body not being with us www.themoon-base.com

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      As always, I appreciate your visit Christopher, thank you very much for your kind words.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks DS Duby, very glad you liked it, because I vermy much enjoyed writing about it, and learning about the Moon.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you Georgie for stopping by, and thank you for the follow too, much appreciated.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks for that thoroughly "lunatic" hub. As always, you cover the subject of our celestial companion in the same engaging and literate manner that you bring to everything you write. I'm glad I found you.

    • DS Duby profile image

      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Really interesting hub, very detailed great job.

    • Georgie Lowery profile image

      Georgianna Lowery 5 years ago from Lubbock, TX

      Very interesting hub, thank you for sharing it!

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks LisaMarie, as always I appreciate the visit.

    • LisaMarie724 profile image

      Lisa Stover 5 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      As always, very interesting hub!