Hey Bill Nye! What Will Happen to Earth as the Moon Drifts Away from It?
Farewell Moon, we barely knew you. Bill Nye knows the Moon is moving away from Earth 1.48 inches per year. Will it keep drifting further away, and what happens to Earth when it does?
Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life.
In Seattle Nye began to combine his love of science with his flair for comedy, when he won the Steve Martin look-alike contest and developed dual careers as an engineer by day and a stand-up comic by night. Nye then quit his day engineering day job and made the transition to a night job as a comedy writer and performer on Seattle’s home-grown ensemble comedy show “Almost Live.” This is where “Bill Nye the Science Guy®” was born. The show appeared before Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, originating at KING-TV, Seattle’s NBC affiliate.
While working on the Science Guy show, Nye won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five children’s books about science, including his latest title, “Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs.”
Nye is the host of three currently-running television series. “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” airs on the Science Channel. “The Eyes of Nye” airs on PBS stations across the country.
Bill’s latest project is hosting a show on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens.” It’s about environmentally responsible choices that consumers can make as they go about their day and their shopping. Also, you’ll see Nye in his good-natured rivalry with his neighbor Ed Begley. They compete to see who can save the most energy and produce the smallest carbon footprint. Nye has 4,000 watts of solar power and a solar-boosted hot water system. There’s also the low water use garden and underground watering system. It’s fun for him; he’s an engineer with an energy conservation hobby.
Nye is currently the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space interest organization.
Question: Hi. I’m Chris. I’m Brendan. We did some research and we saw that the moon is drifting away from Earth at 1.40 inches per year. We’re wondering what would happen if the moon finally drifts away. Thanks.
Bill Nye: Chris, Brandon I believe. Brendan. Greetings. Yes the moon is moving away from the Earth. What happens when the moon eventually moves away from the Earth. You should be a celestial mechanician. You should be an orbital mechanical engineer. You should get a job at jet propulsion lab or the applied physics lab. That’s what you should do. That’s what these people do all day is figure out the orbital motions of these various bodies. So the moon’s moving away so you would presume its influence on the tide would steadily decrease. And moving away its orbital period will get slightly longer so the tides will get slightly more spread out. But when it becomes a significant thing that’s a long time in the future. But it’s fun to think about isn’t it? It’s fun to wonder. So keep an eye on things out there in space and just while we’re here consider joining the Planetary Society. That’s what we talk about all the time is orbital motions, how we’re going to get spacecraft to extraordinary destinations here in the solar system – Mars, Europa the moon of Jupiter with twice as much sea water of the Earth.
Do you want to set up a telescope on the far side of the moon? If you want to do that you’re going to have to understand these orbital motions. Big fun Chris, Brendan. This stuff is what makes people go to schools to learn math so they can compute orbital motions and understand the motions of the heavens. So go for it.
No matter what happens to you in life, there’s one constant you can always depend on: that when night falls, the Moon will be there in the sky. Dun-dun-dun: or can you? Chris and Brendan have submitted a question to Bill Nye after discovering that the Moon is moving away from Earth 1.48 inches per year. Will it keep drifting further away, and what happens to Earth when it does?
This is exactly what certain specialists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion and Applied Physics lab do all day; they calculate orbital motions and their repercussions. It’s common knowledge that the Moon exerts a gravitational force on our planet and causes tidal bulges. What’s less often taught in class is that those tidal bulges push energy back at the Moon, moving it ever so slightly into a higher orbit.
There’s evidence to show that the Moon used to be much closer to Earth and days were much shorter, but as the Moon slings further away and Earth’s rotation slows down, the days are getting longer and will continue to do so – but no need to panic: to give you an idea of the time scale, in 100 years from now, the day will only have increased by 2 milliseconds.
Eventually, billions of years from now, our planet's rotation will have slowed so much that it would take a month to complete a turn. Our oceans would freeze, the tides would be unable to bulge, and that's where it ends: the push and pull between the Earth and Moon would stop for good.
There’s no way we’ll be around then though, says Bill Nye, whether we evacuate this planet or wipe ourselves out or get into a galactic collision with Andromeda, so stay curious, but cool as a cucumber.
Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
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