No Moon, No Life!

  Sorit Gupto |     August 12, 2019

Piu was sitting with a copy and pen. Pom came over and saw that the page was completely blank and Piu was intermittently chewing the tip of the pen. “Piu, let’s play before it's dark,” said Pom.

“Don’t disturb me, Pom! I have to finish my holiday homework,” replied Piu. “Our teacher has asked us to write about the moon. And I am not a scientist working at the Indian Space and Research Organization (ISRO), at least not yet. Chandrayaan-2, which is set to be ISRO's second unmanned mission to the moon, hopes to find out more about the celestial object with the help of an orbiter, lander (Vikram) and rover (Pragyan). Alas! I have no way of finding out the truth on my own,” Piu said in a sad tone.

“How about we take an interview of the moon?” suggested Pom.

“Really! Thanks for your advice!” snapped back Piu sarcastically. “And please, will you guide me on how we would go to the moon? We don’t even have a rocket!” said Piu.

“Simple, we will invite the moon for a one-to-one interview with us right here,” Pom said.

“Thank you for your valuable inputs, Pom! Now, please leave me alone so that I can concentrate on my project,” she said. Piu was angry at Pom’s frivolous attitude towards her homework.

Pom was also aware of this and so he said, “I am not joking Piu! You will see." And then he began to shout, “Moon! Miss Moon! Can you please spare some time? Piu needs to take your interview to complete her holiday homework.”

And to her big surprise, Piu saw the moon actually approaching them. Piu felt she was facing a big, grey balloon once it came to a halt in front of the duo. She was spellbound.

“What are you waiting for, Piu? The moon is here. You should start your interview now,” said Pom.

“Thank you, Pom…I mean... Hi, Miss Moon…” Piu said while being utterly confused about how to greet the moon. Not knowing what to do, Piu whispered into Pom's ears, “Would Miss Moon like to drink a glass of fruit juice?” “No,” replied Pom and then nudged Piu to begin with the interview, which she did immediately after grabbing a pen and a copy.

Miss moon's interview

Piu: Miss Moon, I have heard that there is a rabbit on the moon and also that an old lady who spins yarn there... Is it true?

Moon: Well Piu, these are just mythical stories about me. The truth, my dear, is that no life can exist on the moon since there is no atmosphere, let alone oxygen!

Piu: Really? Please tell me more about you.

Moon: Well, as a satellite I orbit Earth, your home, at an average distance of 3,84,400 km. I am smaller than my planet, that is, Earth. If I have to be precise, my surface area is one per cent less than that of Earth and I am two per cent the volume and one per cent the mass of your planet.

Piu: So, do you have no air? Pom interrupted and said, "Lucky you! This means you are pollution-free! Piu, I think we should all go to the moon and stay there!"

Moon: You are most welcome, Pom, but before you shift, I must tell you that because there is no atmosphere, temperatures range from -233°C at night to a scorching 123°C during the day. I hear organisms on your planet are very adaptive. I hope you will enjoy adapting to the temperature variations on the moon…

Pom was speechless.

Piu: Miss Moon, can you tell us how you were born?

Moon: Well, there are many theories. British barrister-cum-astronomer George Howard Darwin, also the son of the famous evolutionary theory scientist Charles Darwin, proposed the fission theory that said the moon was once a part of Earth and was cast away by its rapid spin. The capture theory states that the moon was a big asteroid that floated through our solar system and was pulled into orbit by the gravitational force of Earth. A third idea came from the American astronomer Thomas Jefferson Jackson. He suggested that the moon was formed from dust and little asteroids in our solar system and it gradually fell under Earth's gravitational spell.

Piu: Three birth stories! Don’t you get confused about who your parents are?

Moon: Hahaha! No, Piu. I don’t get confused and as far origin as stories go, I have one more. In 1974, American scientist and artist William Hartmann proposed a radical idea. According to him, a Mars-sized body named Theia hit Earth at an oblique angle after its orbit became unstable. The debris from Theia and Earth dispersed, and it began orbiting near Earth. When the dust settled, the debris began to combine and the moon was formed.

Piu: What happened next?

Moon: From this violent beginning, I gradually cooled down and now I am giving you my interview.

Piu: Miss Moon, we know that you don’t have water bodies like oceans, seas and lakes. But do you have high-peaked mountains like the Himalayas?

Moon: Of course, I have mountains! In fact, the highest peak on the moon is taller than even the Mount Everest (8,848 m) in the Himalayas!

Pom: What? You must feel the Mt Everest is like a dwarf then!

Moon: But my mountains are different from the ones on Earth. Because I don’t have water, the mountain peaks are not covered with snow. However, there is some good news.

Piu: What is it?

Moon: In 1998, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States of America launched the unmanned Lunar Prospector mission to map the surface of the moon with an instrument called a gamma-ray spectrometer. And guess what they found?

Piu: Water?

Moon: Yes, water! Then in 2008, ISRO's Chandrayaan-1 mission helped confirm the presence of water on the moon. The Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3), one of the instruments used to collect data in the mission, detected a hydrogen-oxygen chemical bond on the lunar regolith or the layer of debris covering the moon's surface. So it turns out that I have water and its strongest presence is in my polar crates!

Pom: But how did it get there?

Moon: It might have been delivered by comets striking the moon over the eons.

Piu: What would happen if one night the moon simply disappeared?

Moon: It’s a very important question, Piu. Let me explain. For Earth, the full moon is on average 14,000 times brighter than the next brightest night-sky object—Venus. Without me, every night stargazing would be spectacular but by the next morning, you'd begin to realize just how important I am for life on Earth.

Piu: Can you share more?

Moon: Of course, Piu! You see, I am a big influencer (not like the ones on social media) simply because I have the largest influence on Earth's tides. Without me, high and low tides would shrink by an estimated 75 per cent. This would endanger the lives of many marine organisms (in tidal zones) like crabs, mussels and sea snails and disrupt the diets of larger animals who eat them.

Piu: Oh no! That will indeed be a huge threat to the entire coastal ecosystem!

Moon: Exactly. And soon, there would be mass population decline across sea and land. Take the red crabs, for example. These creatures use lunar cues to reproduce. Adult red crabs migrate to the shore after spending years in the mountains, and it is only during the last quarter of the moon that the female red crabs release their eggs into the sea.

Piu: And what about us, I mean, humans?

Moon: Tides and tidal currents help mix cold Arctic waters with warmer waters of the tropics. This balances temperatures and stabilises the climate across the world. In fact, without me, weather forecasts would be practically impossible. The average difference between the hottest and coldest places on Earth could increase to life-threatening levels!

Piu: Thank you, Miss Moon for talking to me! Now I understand how your existence is crucial to sustaining life on our planet, our only home in this universe. You are so much more than just a beacon of light in the night sky!cel

About the Author

Supplement Editor, Gobar Times (2016-2021)

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