What If We Destroyed the Moon?

VOICE OVER: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: Ben Welton
Written by Ben Welton

The moon is an ever-present fact of our Earthly existence. It's always there, lighting up the night sky and fuelling our dreams. But, what if it wasn't? And what if humans were the reason for its disappearance? Life on our planet would change forever!

What If We Destroyed the Moon?

We stargazing, sky-searching humans have a habit of taking the moon for granted. That big, grey-blue ball in the night’s sky isn’t made of cheese, you know… But it does control the tides of our seas, and it has quite the history as a landing pad for American astronauts. Of course, our calendar is also based on the rotations of the moon, and our only natural satellite is intrinsically linked with the gravitational pull of the Earth.

The giant, celestial, space-based object is actually slightly bigger than the dwarf planet Pluto at 3,475 kilometers in diameter, but it’s only about one-fourth the size of the planet we call home. And the moon has long inspired the heady heights of human imagination, providing basis for scientific theory, local superstition, romantic poetry and science fiction. George Méliès’ “A Trip To The Moon” famously dazzled early cinema-goers, too. The werewolf connection is supposedly linked to a reported historical rise in crime rate on full moon nights. And Luna, the Roman moon goddess, still holds linguistic influence. The word ‘lunatic’ comes from an early belief that the moon was somehow to blame for insanity.

Scientists do say that the moon is gradually moving away from us - at a rate of 3.8 centimeters per year - but we needn’t overly worry for millions of years yet. So, given that the moon has played such an incredible and consistent role in our history, philosophy and fiction, it seems unlikely that we’d ever want to fasttrack our separation from it, by destroying it. Blowing the moon into oblivion is but a pipe dream for comic book supervillains, right? It’s an unlikely scenario, yes. But what would happen if it became so?

Most significantly, a world without the moon could prove basically uninhabitable for human beings. Without its gravitational pull, the tides of our oceans would dramatically decrease, which could result in the mass extinction of sea life, plus dramatic changes to the world map - with coastal cities especially under threat from unavoidable flooding. Some shorelines could also recede, rendering previous trade routes and some international borders obsolete. And the Earth itself could become much more vulnerable to asteroids and other space debris, particularly if the moon’s annihilation results in it splintering into an endless, unpredictable shower of rock.

A moonless world would also see an increase in volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. The seemingly slight change in gravitational pull would cause the Earth’s core to dramatically shift as the planet tries to compensate for the moon’s absence, which in turn could trigger major tectonic movement. Huge cracks could also appear (especially along fault lines) as the shape and structure of our planet is put under severe strain.

Finally, our day/night cycles would increasingly shorten, as scientists say that the Earth’s rotation would accelerate. It has also been predicted that the Earth’s axial tilt would shift, resulting in seasonal changes worldwide as if the weather was on steroids. Widespread and unprecedented climate change could see the poles become cooler, and equatorial regions thrown into an Ice Age - though these processes would likely take centuries to unfold. Even so, entire countries (or even continents) could become unlivable during certain times of the year. Established agricultural industries and behaviours would fall by the wayside, plant life and vegetation would be forced to adapt or else die, and entire strands of the natural food chain could perish.

Clearly, the moon’s disappearance would be a nightmare scenario that only a true evil genius would want to cause. But, though destroying the moon sounds as though it should be impossible, it actually could be achieved. Theoretically. Though not until some serious, serious technological advancements have been made.

If you are an ardent anti-moon crusader (and hopefully you’re not!), then you’d need much more firepower than we humans are currently capable of. Because if you lined up all of the world’s nuclear missiles, ICBMs and general WMDs, and fired them moon-wards - striking bull’s-eye with every single one of them - you’d cause some surface damage, but not total destruction. Not even close.

Instead, to stand a chance of saying sayonara to their target, our determined destroyer would need to redirect an exceptionally giant asteroid into the moon, or even into the Earth. The binding energy of the moon - or the energy it’d take to dismantle it - is around 2,000 times less than the binding energy of Earth. But, should a large enough rock rampage into our planet, then the energy released could be enough to end the moon, as a kind of cosmic collateral damage. But, the seismic asteroid strike would also wipe out all Earthly life, so the plan isn’t without risk.

Similarly, if a spectacularly mad (though undoubtedly intelligent) scientist somehow managed to harvest the full energy of the sun to direct that power toward an unsuspecting lunar landscape, then the moon would be a goner in a mere fifteen minutes. A sun-powered, super-charged deathray such as that would be more cataclysmic than a billion hydrogen bombs. Again though, if that weapon was ever invented, it’d spell the end of not just the moon, but Earth as well.

So if moon destruction ever did happen, then the Earth’s days would be numbered too. Amidst all the intensified natural disasters, gravitational change, seasonal shifts and asteroidal interference, humankind would certainly struggle to survive. Throw in a souped-up sun gun, and we’d have no chance.

However, if stealing control of the entire planet’s nukes won’t do it, but briefly controlling every joule of energy from the sun might… It’s safe to say that obliterating the moon just isn’t going to happen. You can sleep soundly knowing that it’ll still be there the following night. And if you do still hold a strong and strange vendetta against the moon, it’s time to give it up. Because it isn’t going anywhere.