Monday, September 22, 2008

What If We Had No Moon?

It seems like a reasonable question to ask. What if we had no moon? Would it matter? What has the moon done for me lately?
It turns out that the presence of such a large moon as we have is unusual for a terrestrial planet. Mercury and Venus have no moons, and Mars has two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos. To have a moon roughly 1⁄3 the size of the planet is unique in the inner solar system. Our Moon, for example, is as large as some of the moons of the giant gas planets in the outer solar system. If there were no moon, we would have no ocean tides, and the rotation rate of the earth would not have slowed to its current 24 hours. It is thought that early in the life of the Earth, it rotated once every 6
hours. The moon also appears to stabilize the rotational axis of the Earth. The Moon, in periodically blocking the light from the Sun’s photosphere gives us a view of the outer layers of the Sun’s atmosphere, and it also gave early astronomers clues to the distribution of objects in the solar system.

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