Thursday, July 18, 2024

The mathematics professor who wanted to nuke the moon to save the world

There is no spectacle in the universe as dazzling as the moon but medieval lores say that the glowing beauty also possessed mystical powers. In European mythology, people believed a myth that a full moon could transform people into werewolves. Greek philosopher Aristotle and Roman historian Pliny the Elder suggested that the human brain was susceptible to the harmful influences of the moon. But one American mathematician went so far as to say that destroying the Moon would solve humans’ all life problems. His eccentric theory, recently surfaced in People’s 1991 Archives, is a subject of much academic humor nowadays.

Representative Image Source: Lunar landscape overlooking ‘full’ earth, printed in ‘Popular Science Monthly’, 1873. This is the equivalent of a full moon seen from Earth. (Photo by Kean Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Alexander Abian was a mathematics professor at Iowa State University. In a 1991 campus newsletter, he proposed his “Moonless Earth theory,” according to which “blowing up the Moon would solve all of human life’s problems.” He didn’t have a personal grudge for the moon, but rather he believed that demolishing it would mean the end of seasons, which would eliminate natural disasters.

Representative Image Source: Tides caused by the cycles of the moon. Undated.
Representative Image Source: Tides caused by the cycles of the moon. Undated.

Abian’s hypothesis was based on the idea that if the moon no longer existed, Earth’s rotation would stop, and this would change the temperatures and wind patterns for good. He said “nuking the moon” was the idea, and the means to do this was nuclear force. “You make a big hole by deep drilling, and you put there atomic explosive, and you detonate it—by remote control from Earth.”

Representative Image Source: Eruption or flare on the surface of the Sun. Artist NASA. (Photo by Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Representative Image Source: Eruption or flare on the surface of the Sun. Artist NASA. (Photo by Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Sounds pretty convenient, but it isn’t. Over the years, scientific experts and astronomers have expressed strong disapproval and criticism of this idea. Many have even said that a moonless Earth would lead to a total collapse of life on the planet. For instance, speaking to Popular Mechanics, Katiya Fosdick of MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research said that destroying the moon would not eliminate natural disasters, but cause exactly the opposite, “I think that would create natural disasters.”

Representative Image Source: 1950s CLOSE UP OF EARTHS MOON (Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images)
Representative Image Source: 1950s CLOSE UP OF EARTHS MOON (Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images)

Abian might be correct in saying that if the moon was destroyed, tides would become much smaller, but the fact is that they won’t disappear altogether because the Sun also influences the rising tides to some extent. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), tides are “very long-period waves that move through the ocean in response to the forces exerted by the moon and sun.” As they rise and fall, tides influence ocean currents, determining whether the weather is cool or hot.

So, if the moon disappears, and tides lessen, the weather may appear to settle on the surface, but it will trigger other problems. Tides are responsible for maintaining the ecological balance. No tides would mean disorder in biological life. Food chains will be affected, and so will be cosmological timekeeping. Earth’s rotation will gradually slow down and it will start freezing. “Think about half the Earth not receiving any sunlight for two-thirds of the year,” said Fosdick.

Representative Image Source: Full moon over the sea off the north coast of Cornwall. Painting in Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Blackburn, Lancashire. Artist Julius Olsson. (Photo by The Print Collector via Getty Images)
Representative Image Source: Full moon over the sea off the north coast of Cornwall. Painting in Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Blackburn, Lancashire. Artist Julius Olsson. (Photo by The Print Collector via Getty Images)

Plus, there are various science-based reasons why Earth “needs” the Moon to be there. Life on Earth can’t possibly survive without its only natural satellite, as BBC’s Science Focus also explains. There are three major explanations. First is the intensity of nuclear energy that would be required to blast away the Moon to smithereens. Mankind would need to drill mine shafts hundreds of kilometers deep, all over the Moon, and drop a total of 600 billion of the largest nuclear bombs ever built down them. 

Representative Image Source:  Trip to the Moon. French movie by Georges Melies, 1902. Space rocket hits moon in the eye. BPA2# 4315
Representative Image Source: Trip to the Moon. French movie by Georges Melies, 1902. Space rocket hits moon in the eye. 

Added to it, is the fiery rain of debris that the blasted Moon will shower on the Earth. Even a small pebble-sized fragment falling on the planet from the Moon would be lethal to humans. The fragments would burn, releasing enormous quantities of kinetic energy into the atmosphere, heating it until all life was incinerated. Just one collision could spur a chain reaction of crashes, filling Earth’s orbit with so much space debris that it would choke up the planet’s life. This phenomenon is also referred to as “Kessler Syndrome,” proposed by NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978 and also seen in Neal Stephenson’s 2015 novel “Seveneves.”

A moonless Earth would prompt another life-destroying scenario by affecting the “tilt” of the planet. The debris from the Moon will scatter and stick to the rings around the planet. Over the years, the Earth’s axial tilt would become so disharmonized that most of one hemisphere would face the Sun continuously, and the other would be in perpetual darkness. 

Yet, Abian’s belief in the moonless theory remained unshakeable till the end of his life. When challenged, he said, “I am raising the petulant finger of defiance to the solar organization for the first time in 5 billion years. Those critics who say ‘Dismiss Abian’s ideas’ are very close to those who dismissed Galileo.”

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