Most of us appreciate the beauty of the moon in the sky. It has driven men to poetic verse and romantic notions. The moon’s cyclic motions has been an important part of human’s lives since our ancestors. But what if the moon did not exist? The next time you notice the moon in the sky, try to imagine how things might be different with no moon orbiting our planet.
Besides the obvious; no moonlit walks, no “Moon River” and no Apollo Moon landings (one small step for a man would have been a much bigger one, probably to Mars!) And there are some other important differences which would affect our lives tremendously.
Our ancestors paid careful notice to the night sky. They gave names to the “pictures” that the stars made, and they called the planets wanderers because they moved through the constellations. More importantly, our ancestors noticed the rhythmic motions of the moon. The Sun was useful for marking short time intervals, but it was the Moon which aided them in marking longer periods of time. Many calendars were based on the 29 day cycle of the moon, in fact, the ancestral form of the word month, is moonth! Today, the Islamic calendar as well as a few others, are still based on the moon.
Christians calculate the date of Easter by the full moon. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. This might seem strange and cumbersome at first, but there is a very good reason for Easter’s date being set by the full moon. Early Christians would make pilgrimages to the holy lands at Easter. The light of the full moon aided them in their journey, so it was planned around the full moon.
The Chinese date their new year according the moon. Without the moon’s cycle we might have ended up with a very different way of keeping track of time, and we most probably would have called it something other than a moonth!
Imagine — no solar or lunar eclipses. -and this would have changed our early views of the shape of the Earth. During a lunar eclipse the curved shadow of our planet can be seen moving across the face of the moon, giving away the round shape of the Earth.
Many of our vocabulary words are “moon oriented.” The words “honeymoon” “‘lunatic” “moon madness” and “moonflower” would not exist. And try to imagine us without that showy social past-time of “mooning!”
Earth would spin much faster without its orbiting moon. That’s because the moon’s gravity pulls on Earth’s oceans. The moon is largely responsible for the tides. The pull of the moon, and ebb and flow of the tides, puts the brakes on Earth’s daily rotation. Billions of years ago, Earth spun around on its axis much faster. At one time, the cycle of day and night was less than ten hours long. If we’d never had a moon, we’d still have a shorter day.
If Earth rotated faster, other effects would come into play. Wind patterns would likely be stronger and longer lived. Consider the giant planet Jupiter, which rotates in about ten hours. Hurricanes on Jupiter can be enormous and last for centuries. Wind patterns stretch across the entire planet, giving Jupiter the banded appearance you can see through a telescope.
A constant gale force wind on Earth would have affected life and evolution. Imagine working, talking, or just walking around against the howling winds. Imagine trying to navigate a ship at sea. Exploration would have been greatly affected (much to the pleasure of some native peoples no doubt!) It is even possible that some life forms might not even exist under such conditions.
Our nearest neighbor in space has been a major part of our lives. The next time you gaze at the moon, think of the role it has played, and how lost we might be without it!