Monday, January 22, 2007

It's Only a Paper Moon

I am devastated. I have just learned that in about 5 billion years, the moon is going to disintegrate.

The sun will swell until its atmosphere envelops the Earth and moon. The space through which they orbit will contain more molecules, causing a phenomenon called "gas drag."

The moon is now moving away from Earth, and its orbit is increasing. By then, it will take about 47 days to orbit the Earth. Meanwhile, Earth's spin will also have slowed to one rotation every 47 days.

Except for February? And what about Leap Year?

The moon will be the sun's first victim.

I'm not sure why I find this disturbing. Not exactly panic-inducing, but definitely disturbing. Chances are, I will not be around to witness the devastation, nor will anyone I know. But presumably, there will still be life on our planet. And I fear for them.

It is believed that Earth's moon was born about 4.5 billion years ago in a collision between Earth and another planet the size of Mars. The enormous impact threw debris into orbit around the young Earth, and from this maelstrom, the moon coalesced.

For the last few billion years, the moon's gravity has been raising tides in our oceans while the moon has been pushed away from Earth by 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) per year as our planet's rotation slows.

In other words, the gears are getting mushy. The tidal forces pulling the moon apart are stronger than the gravity holding it together. It's doomed.

The sun's mutation into a red giant is likely to ensure that the moon ends its days the way it began, as a ring of Earth-girdling debris. It will be torn to pieces.

Every crater, mountain, valley, footprint and flag will be scattered to form a Saturn-like ring of debris 23,000-miles in diameter (37,000-kilometers) above the equator. The new ring will eventually rain down onto Earth's surface.

What will artists and lovers and song writers do when there is no moon?

Update: I mentioned this information to my beloved friend, Adolf, who is 104. As I said in my post about him on his birthday in October, he is my definitive proof that senility is not mandatory.

His comment about the moon's impending doom was, "I am much more concerned about the way we humans are treating each other right now, today. We have ever more sophisticated ways to kill each other, yet there is still hunger and disease as well as war. Who cares about the moon when faced with problems such as these?"

I stand corrected. And I don't know what I will do when there is no Adolf anymore.


Jocelyn said...

They'll just moon about, all moon-faced, right?

I can't believe you wrote about something kind of scientific, and I actually understood a few of the words ("and"..."the").

curmudgeon said...

It's all Bush's fault.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I know it's not one of my more entertaining posts, but thought it worth a mention that our moon is slated for destruction.


Round up the usual suspects.

mist1 said...

I had better not be here to see that.

thethinker said...

As long as I'm not around for that... but, it's still depressing to think about.

zorak163 said...

I agree with both Adolf's point of view and your initial one. The moon is a thing of beauty that can be gazed upon from a world that is increasingly filled with less and less beauty.

kim said...


heartinsanfrancisco said...


I cannot think of anything drearier than a world without moonlight.


Maybe you could go wherever Mist is going, so you won't have to see it either.


Thank you for expressing so beautifully what I was trying to say.


*!* (Ditto.)

Kevin said...

See, this doesn't bother me all that much. I ain't gonna be around to "miss" the moon when it goes. Until the world is destroyed by the sun going nova, there will still be life on the planet. Maybe human life, maybe not. Either way, whatever life there is, they won't know what the world was like WITH a moon, so they would have nothing to miss.

It's like us and the dodo bird. Our lives are what they are and we've made do without the dodo.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


But I love Dodo birds. And I miss the fact that I've never known one.

I understand your rationale. It just doesn't bring me any comfort.

Michael C said...

I read the moon story as well and was all prepared to make fun of it. Then I read the actual scientific article and got so confused I gave up.

See how important the Earth is? When things leave us, they disintegrate!! That'll teach other would-be moons (oh, I hope I didn't offend Pluto)

furiousBall said...

why can't the sun suck paris hilton off the earth instead?

Liz said...

To stop this, surely all we need is Bruce Willis and the screenwriters from the film Armageddon.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It should, since she is already debris.

Unfortunately, her family probably owns the sun.


I just love a Hollywood ending.

moontopples said...

I like this post. Science and art need not be separate. Richard Feynman wrote: "What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?"

Different orb, but the sentiment holds.

Also, what with my blog name being what it is, I obviously have an interest in the fate of our pale satellite.

And while I've got your ear, I'm sponsoring a short fiction contest which starts soon, and I'd love it if you'd consider entering. Rules were posted today if you want to check it out.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I think the name of your blog is my absolute favorite among all the great ones out there.

And you're right about science and art. It would be easy to think of them as separate subjects, as they were in school, but then we'd miss the way they interlock like Chinese puzzle pieces. So much of the natural world is beautiful, and proves that there is really no definition between them.

Your contest sounds like fun! I'll play if the subject is something I can fake at all.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Oops. I didn't skip you. My comment went south when Truffle dislodged some wires.

I was wondering if you had abandonment issues after your speculation about what happens to those who leave us. And now I've probably made them worse.

I'm still not over Pluto's demotion from planet to non-planet. Talk amongst yourselves while I finish crying over here. I'll be back when I can speak again.


No moon? What will the cows jump over?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


First the moon, then I suppose, the cat and the fiddle.

Where will it all lead?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

We should build a colony on the moon, have a nuclear explosion at our badly managed nuclear dumpsite on the dark side of the moon, send the moon out of orbit, leave the earth behind and have all sorts of fun drifting in the cosmos and avoid getting swallowed up by the sun. Now thats a plan. Actually its the plot of the TV series SPACE 1999.

Christina_the_wench said...

Adolf rocks. Nuff said.

Kevin Charnas said...

Let's get cloning Adolf RIGHT NOW!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I hope it works out for you. Please write.


Adolf is King.


I'm hoping he'll live forever, but it's a great back-up plan.

Thailand Gal said...

Adolph is right. All we have is right here and right now. My guess is (uneducated guess, I should say :) that the environment would shift slowly and steadily, eventually being unable to support our particular life form. Something else will evolve.

Hm. Very interesting topic and something to think about. :)



heartinsanfrancisco said...


I hope the life form that replaces us has more sense and compassion, and is less intent on destroying itself and the planet that supports it.

The Law Fairy said...

Well, anything left on the earth by then will have to be pretty water-friendly. Maybe they'd grow gills and fins like Kevin Costner in Waterworld.

So if they could live in the water, maybe they could develop the ability to live in space too.

Or maybe the nuclear winter will take care of all life before global warming does us in. It's a toss-up -- though the Doomsday folks seem to think we're more likely to die the instant nuclear death than the slow hot and humid one. I kinda like instant better than slow and painful, personally.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Law Fairy,

As Woody Allen said, I don't care how I die. I just don't want to be there when it happens.

Lee said...

I watch too much Discovery Science. I am too busy freaking out about the super-volcano under Yellowstone and what will happen if/when the Earth's magnetic polarity flips. Now I gotta add the disintegration of the moon?!

I need another glass of wine!

urban-urchin said...

can i be friends with Adolf?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


There's a volcano under Yellowstone? Why hasn't anybody told me about this?


He would love you. He likes pretty women.

Lee said...

Welcome to my personal paranoid hell. There are more scientific articles but this one is particularly doomsday.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


That was a delightful way to begin my day. Of course, I know now that it could well be my LAST day.

Ignorance was bliss. I hope I have time to take a shower before -- you know.

Ryane said...

Hmm...a moon by any other name, will not look as sweet? What a great post. I know I will be gone, as well...but still--I felt a pang of anxiety when I read that news article the other day, as well.

And your friend sounds like a true gem.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It won't be our world anymore.

And Adolf IS a gem. I need to call him now.

Thank you for coming by. You have a great blog, and I'll be bellying up there regularly.

flipped out said...

I'm sure that medical science will come up with a serum soon to allow us to live as long as we like. This will allow us to be around when that BIG party comes.
I hope medical science will also make it possible for all of us to get some whopping good faces lifts!
It's only a plastic moon.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


So you DO read my blog. First I hear of it.

As for the face lifts, I could be ready in about a half-hour. Bring something to read while you wait.

An explosive said...

He is truly a gem! How scary is all of it the world the moon, the people fighting! When will we ever learn? It's truly scary!

All the best! Thanks for the wonderful comment!


Open Grove Claudia said...

I heard these facts when I was a child. I cried for literally days. This beautiful earth will end? Finally my father sat me down and said, "you won't be here so why do you care?"

It still doesn't make sense to me.

velvet girl said...

I think that Adolph has a good point and it's good to have someone in your life who offers that kind of perspective, but it is sad about the idea of no more moon. Sigh.


heartinsanfrancisco said...

My heart,

Sometimes it takes a lifetime to heal. But every bit of love you share along the way helps so much.


I'd like to think that we become more concerned with people and events outside our own personal space as we get older.

It does matter. Our being here gives us a stake in the future, and with that goes the responsibility to care.


He has a point, but with all respect, it's not the only point. He stopped driving at 96 and went blind within a few years, so for him, the moon is already gone. For us, it is not.

Crankster said...

Not to go from the sublime to the ridiculous, but what will we call it when we expose our butts in public?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


You know, that occurred to me, too. "Sunning," I guess. Somehow it lacks verve, though.