The Moon has been a source of wonder, inspiration, comfort and light throughout humanity’s existence.
Viewed as a goddess by some, a god by others, it is connected to wisdom and intuition by Pagans, to the divine feminine in spirituality.
And astronomers want it gone.
Not all astronomers, but some.
Why? Because it’s too bright. While for many of us a full Moon is a striking addition to the night sky, for astronomers the bright light is a blinding one.
‘I hate the Moon,’ says Dr Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. ‘The Moon is evil, because we complain about how bright all these new satellites are, but the Moon is the brightest satellite of the Earth by far.
‘There’s only one of it, which is good, but it makes us stop ground-based observing of interesting, really faint deep space stuff for half the month, every month.’
In Dr McDowell’s defence, he was speaking on a podcast specifically looking at how to destroy the Moon, but he arrived armed and ready for some massive lunar destruction – and was joined in the mission by Professor Haym Benaroya of Rutgers University,
‘A lot of astronomers are eager to go to the far side of the Moon and put their telescopes there, because then the Moon would actually shield them from the electromagnetics and noise that comes from Earth,’ says Professor Haym, joining Chelsea Whyte and Leah Crane on the Dead Planets Society podcast.
‘They’re the other astronomers. The evil astronomers who want to destroy it have a different vision.’
That vision includes exploring the idea of using the Moon’s own behaviour against itself.
‘The interior core of the Moon is actually molten like the Earth,’ says Professor Benaroya. ‘A lot of what we know about the Moon started with the Apollo missions, because they put a lot of different instrumentation on the surface and found that it’s seismically active – it has moonquakes.
‘Interestingly, because of the nature of the Moon, these moonquakes last a lot longer than earthquakes. Even though their magnitudes are a lot lower, they can last for up to an hour.
‘So we could fissure a few locations, then wait for a quake to hit, and those fissures might split and break a chunk off.’
However, that won’t help astronomers much, and is also easier said than done.
As can be seen from the ground, the Moon has been repeatedly smashed into by countless asteroids and meteorites for a little over 4.5 billion years. These impacts blast up vast amounts of dust, which over time has settled into all the naturally-forming cracks and crevices of the Moon, meaning the lunar surface is incredibly tough to crack.
To dig into the Moon in any way, whether to destroy it or otherwise, will require drilling – which brings its own problems in the gravity sphere.
‘If you brought a large [digger] from Earth to the Moon, assuming you could afford to, it’ll just push itself off the surface,’ says Professor Benaroya. ‘That’s a real challenge.’
However, if astronomers could crack digging into the Moon, another approach to destroying it could be perforating the equator and dropping bombs in the holes.
Again, not as simple as it sounds.
‘We’ve blown the Moon into pieces,’ says Dr McDowell. ‘But if we only have just enough energy to break the chemical bonds of the rock, and the little pieces are still in each other’s gravity field, they’ll come back to each other. What happens then is you’ve actually made the world’s biggest ball pit.
‘So that doesn’t cut it. You’ve not only got to explode it enough to smash it into pieces, you’ve got to give enough energy to each of these pieces to have lunar escape velocity and not come back together.’
To do that, Dr McDowell says, would take the force of ten trillion one-megatonne thermonuclear bombs.
‘We already have too many thermonuclear bombs,’ he adds. ‘That would be way too many.’
An alternative would be to try to bounce the Moon out the way by hitting it with a comparatively large object, which would be both difficult to find and manoeuver.
‘Mercury would do nicely,’ says Dr McDowell. ‘Pluto would work too – everyone’s down on Pluto so let’s get rid of it.’
However, smashing something into the Moon wouldn’t look like a massive Newton’s cradle.
‘What we know from satellites is that when you smash two things together at hypersonic velocity, a hypersonic shock wave goes through each object and reduces them to shrapnel. Those clouds of shrapnel pass through each other and carry on along pretty much the same trajectories they were already on.’
While for a short while this may create a ring around the Earth – pretty cool – eventually the pieces would again likely group back together.
But not before potentially wiping out a few million, or maybe billion, people.
‘What you’ve done is shred the Moon, leaving it in the same orbit but adding a random velocity component to each of the pieces,’ says Dr McDowell. ‘Some of those are going to send stuff out into the solar system, but some will re-enter the atmosphere and destroy our cities.’
Bombs may not be the way to go after all. Professor Benaroya considers one more solution.
A massive laser.
‘Military grade lasers could probably do a lot of damage,’ he says. ‘Perhaps while orbiting it lasers a circumference and eventually works its way down and down, then eventually we could pull it apart.’
Except that this has now created two moons, rather than destroying one. It would also cause some pretty weird effects on the tides.
‘It could play havoc with them,’ says Professor Benaroya. ‘Now you have half the original Moon, so half the effect on tidal forces, but instead of one maximum tide every 12 hours, you’re going to have them whenever each half goes around a certain location.
‘It could make waves larger, tides more erratic – it’s complicated.’
And, hasn’t solved the original problem, which is to help astronomers see deep space.
Luckily for them, the James Webb Space Telescope is still wowing daily with its incredible images, and the European Space Agency’s Euclid space telescope came online this summer – plus trusty Hubble is still in action.
It seems for everyone’s sake, astronomers should stick to these, and leave the Moon alone.