What would happen if the moon disappeared?

The Moon is of critical importance to our planet Earth. In fact, its importance is so great that, without exaggeration, we would not have existence on Earth as we know it without the moon. Nothing on Earth would be the same without the Moon. 

Let’s find out more about the moon in this article!


Facts about the Moon

There are multiple hypotheses regarding the formation of the Moon based on the history of the universe. According to one hypothesis, the Moon was created when an object the size of Mars collided with the Earth. Another theory holds that the Moon was formed from primordial solar system material that coalesced into a single body. Both of these hypotheses are supported by scientific evidence, but it is unclear which one is accurate.

Nonetheless, the so-called giant impact theory, which proposes that the Moon was formed by the collision of the early Earth and a rocky celestial body called Theia, has become the most widely accepted theory.

Still, the specifics of how this occurred are murky, and there are numerous other explanations that scientists are struggling to explain.

It is believed that the moon was created approximately 4.51 billion years ago during the formation of the solar system, regardless of which theory you prefer.

And this precise event (the formation of the Moon as a result of a collision) allowed for the development of life on Earth. Our atmosphere would be different without the Moon. Without a correct atmosphere, we would lack the precise amount of necessary gases (think oxygen and carbon dioxide). And without the precise mixture of gases, it is unlikely that life as we know it would have evolved on Earth.

Consequences if the Moon Vanishes

Sea under the full moon

The first and most noticeable change would occur at night. The nights would be tremendously darker, as the moon illuminates the Earth by reflecting sunlight during the night. Scientists believe that without artificial illumination, we would not be able to see our hands in front of our face at night without the moon. However, not only would the nights become darker, but so would the days.

An errant Moon would influence the motion of the Earth. Approximately two milliseconds per century are added to the length of a day as a result of the Moon’s gravitational influence. On human timescales, if this increase were to cease tomorrow, it would not be very perceptible.

However, if the Moon had vanished billions of years ago, Earth’s rotation would be significantly different today.

Early Earth had 4-hour rotations, but the Moon gradually and persistently slowed them to the present 24-hour days. Without the Moon’s presence for all those years, the Earth would still be spinning much quicker, and we would feel even more pressed for time.

Living near the ocean would result in reduced tides, but not total absence. While the Moon is primarily responsible for the gravitational pull that causes tides, the sun also plays a role. The tides would be roughly half as high as they are currently.

Losing the Moon would result in the loss of a vast amount of information about the primordial Earth. On Earth, due to tectonic activity, there are no genuinely ancient rocks. The geologically inactive Moon, however, functions as a repository of information about the Earth and solar system billions of years ago.

For example, the number of craters on the Moon indicates a period of intense asteroid bombardment approximately 4.1 to 3.8 billion years ago. In addition, chemical analysis of Moon materials has helped us determine how much of Earth’s water was delivered by comets and asteroids.

If we all awoke one morning to discover that the Moon was absent, the majority of us presumably would not notice. The magnitude of low and high tides would immediately decrease by more than half for those residing near the ocean. Sea organisms such as barnacles, crabs, mussels, and starfish would likely become extinct along every coastline as a result of the effects of rising sea levels.

Land animals, particularly nocturnal ones that rely on moonlight for hunting, would be so bewildered that they would eventually starve to death. Due to the interdependence of Earth’s ecosystems, a chain reaction that begins with the extinction of coastal marine life would cause humanity to struggle for survival. Without the moon, the Earth’s axial tilt would likely increase by 10 to 45 degrees, altering the seasons and climate. Closer to zero degrees of tilt would result in the absence of seasons, while a greater tilt would cause extreme weather changes and potentially even a new ice age.

To cultivate and harvest crops, people rely on both seasons and climates. Eliminating these patterns, which have been in place for thousands of years, would drastically reduce humanity’s capacity to cultivate and produce food. The moon is an indispensable partner in the cosmic dance of existence. Without it, life on Earth would ultimately come to an end, and we’d lose all of the amazing NASA toys sitting on its surface. 

Could the Moon Could Ever Be Lost

Full moon behind a tree silhouette

All of these hypothetical scenarios are merely thought experiments, but is a future without the moon genuinely possible?

When the moon formed from the debris of proto-Earth’s collision with a Mars-sized body, it was significantly closer to Earth than it is now. Early on, the moon may have orbited the Earth at a distance of only 22,500 kilometers (14,000 miles), as opposed to the current distance of 402,336 kilometers (250,000 miles). Looking up at the night sky billions of years ago, the moon would have appeared up to twenty times larger than it does now.

Because of Earth’s tides, the moon has been and will continue to move away from the planet at a rate of about 3.78 centimeters (1.5 inches) per year. Due to the rotation of the planet, the tidal bulge is positioned slightly in front of the moon, supplying the moon with a small quantity of energy and pushing it into a higher orbit. As a result of the tidal interactions between the Earth and the moon, the Earth’s rotation is delayed and the moon’s orbit is widened; however, both effects balance out to maintain angular momentum.

The Earth’s days will grow longer over time (by one second every 50,000 years) and the moon will continue to recede, but this will not last eternally. According to one estimate from the Planetary Science Institute, the moon’s orbit is expected to reach its utmost distance 50 billion years from now. At that time, the moon’s orbital period will be 47 days, and Earth’s rotation period will also be 47 days (a 47-day day, if that makes sense), so one side of the Earth will always face the moon, just as one side of the moon always faces the Earth. When the entire system is in harmony, Earth and the moon will no longer exert any tidal effects on each other.

However, the tides caused by the sun’s gravity will persist, negating the effect and gradually drawing the moon closer to the Earth. In roughly 50 billion years, the moon will be so near to Earth that it will be torn apart by the planet’s gravity, forming a debris ring similar to Jupiter’s.

This scenario is implausible, as the sun is expected to run out of fuel in five billion years, at which point it will expand into a red giant enveloping both the Earth and the moon. Consequently, the moon will never be lost. No need to be concerned; the sun will annihilate both the Earth and its moon companion before that occurs.

In conclusion, the moon has a significant relationship with Earth: if there were no moon, our daily existence would be drastically altered. The moon influences existence on Earth as we know it. It affects our oceans, climate, and the length of our days. Without the moon, the tides would fall, the nights would be darker, the seasons would change, and the duration of our days would vary.