January 3, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

A Young Moon for Life

Our moon is unique in the solar system.  Just the right size and just the right distance, it is positioned to stabilize the tilt of Earth’s axis, providing stable seasonal cycles.  Science lacks data so far to know just how unique the Earth-moon relationship in a habitable zone is among other stellar systems.  We know from the planets of our own solar system that moons come in all sizes, from tiny Deimos to massive Titan, and orbit in apparently arbitrary radii from their host planets.  What astrophysicists can do is predict what would happen on earth if things were different.  That’s what one scientist did.  Another discovery could change the view of the moon’s surface being unaltered for billions of years.

PhysOrg reported a thought experiment by Neil F. Comins, author of a book entitled, What If the Earth Had Two Moons? (see title on Amazon.com).  First, consider why we should be glad to have just one:

Our Earth-Moon system is unique in the solar system. The Moon is 1/81 the mass of Earth while most moons are only about 3/10,000 the mass of their planet. The size of the Moon is a major contributing factor to complex life on Earth. It is responsible for the high tides that stirred up the primordial soup of the early Earth, it’s the reason our day is 24 hours long, it gives light for the variety of life forms that live and hunt during the night, and it keeps our planet’s axis tilted at the same angle to give us a constant cycle of seasons.

A second moon would change that.

Here’s he says would happen if Earth were to capture a second moon he names Luna:

Luna’s arrival would wreak havoc on Earth. Its gravity would tug on the planet causing absolutely massive tsunamis, earthquakes, and increased volcanic activity. The ash and chemicals raining down would cause a mass extinction on Earth.

Comins, clearly an evolutionist because of his reference to the primordial soup icon, thinks that after a few weeks, things would settle down on Earth for life to evolve again.  Nocturnal animals, if they emerged, would have to adjust to brighter light at night.  Should humans arrive on such a world, there would be no rhymes of ancient mariners: tides would be measured in thousands of feet, making beachfront life and cruises nearly impossible.  “The habitable area of Earth, then, would be much smaller.

But Earth’s troubles would not end there.  Eventually, the two moons would collide, undoubtedly raining debris onto the Earth, resulting in another mass extinction.  Ever the optimist, he ends, “The end result would be one moon orbiting the Earth, and life another era of life would be primed to start.

Space.com reported on a NASA study that should cause us to be thankful for our global magnetic field.  The energy of coronal mass ejections is sufficient to “sandblast” the moon’s surface.  Earth is protected from the rain of terror from the sun, consisting of a “ billion tons of plasma that tear through space at a blistering pace of up to a million miles per hour in a cloud many times the size of Earth,” because the charged particles get deflected around our world or hit the atmosphere at the poles, producing little more than inconvenience to electronic gear in the worst case, or beautiful auroras to admire.

The moon and Mars, however, lack the protection of a global magnetic field.  That may be why Mars has such a thin atmosphere – whatever it had before has been eroded from the onslaught of the solar wind.  What’s new about the NASA study is the finding that the proportion of charged helium rises from 4% to 20% in coronal mass ejections (CMEs).  Because of their greater mass, helium ions can sputter away ten times more material from the lunar surface.  A NASA scientist at Goddard said, “”The model predicts 100 to 200 tons of lunar material — the equivalent of 10 dump truck loads — could be stripped off the lunar surface during the typical two-day passage of a CME.

Although the article did not explore the consequences over the assumed lifetime of the moon (4.5 billion years), it would seem, since almost every part of the moon except possibly at some spots near the poles is exposed to “the wrath of the sun,” that the lunar surface would have been subject to considerable reworking by CMEs over that time.

Exercise:  Calculate the mass loss and change of appearance expected of the lunar surface for an old moon subjected to sputtering by CMEs, and whether the calculation matches what was observed by the Apollo astronauts.  Take into account the average frequency of CMEs striking the moon in 4.5 billion years. 

The delicate balance of the Earth-moon system is a prediction of intelligent design.  For evolutionary theory, it is a lucky happenstance.  In science, prediction generally has more value than saying “Lucky stuff happens sometimes.”  For an explanation of our moon, therefore, the edge should, therefore, be given to intelligent design instead of evolution.  We’ll let interested researchers explore the age implications of continual bombardment of the moon by CMEs.  At first glance it seems doubtful that removal of dump truck loads of material for billions of years would leave the lunar surface the way the Apollo astronauts found it.

If Comins thinks that the Earth would be primed for life to start after two catastrophic extinctions, well, we have some beachfront property on Titan to sell cheap, stocked with cupboards of primordial soup.

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