In a huge step we wish mere mortals could take, scientists have discovered that the Moon is very slowly, but surely, drifting away from Earth.
The Moon has long been used as a calendar by ancient human civilizations and now we know that the Moon and the Earth are intimately linked by gravitational attraction.
But now, scientists have discovered that the Moon is moving away from Earth at a rate of 3.8 centimeters per year, according to NASA.
Experts made the discovery thanks to the Apollo mission-era reflective panels installed on the Moon in 1969, allowing space agencies to measure the distance between it and Earth.
According to Professor Joshua Davies of the University of Quebec, Montreal, and research colleague Marguerite Lantinck of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as colleagues from the University of Utrecht and the University of Geneva, the new discovery may be intriguing, but it is also “The poor’s guide to the past“.
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This is because, if the Moon, which is four and a half billion years old, had drifted at this rate throughout its existence, it would have collided with Earth about 1.5 billion years ago. Since we’re still here, that obviously didn’t happen.
Experts believe that the cause of the drift has to do with “Milankovitch cycles”. Cycles describe how subtle changes in the shape of Earth’s orbit and axis affect the amount of sunlight we receive.
This, in turn, affects the type of climate we have and can dictate periods of wet or dry weather. The Milankovitch cycle was previously responsible for the period of greening of the Sahara desert and its strength is known to influence the size of lakes on Earth.
Milankovitch cycles and their frequencies also determine the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Scientists have discovered that 2.46 billion years ago, the Moon was about 60,000 km closer to Earth than it is now, which means there could have been 17 hours of sunlight per day.
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