In a surprising find, scientists have discovered that the Moon is slowly moving away from Earth. The Moon, our planet’s only natural companion in space, was previously thought to always stay the same distance from Earth because of gravity. However, NASA reports that the Moon is actually inching away from us at a rate of 3.8 cm per year, as noted by a UK-based website.
In the past, people used the Moon as a kind of calendar to track time. But this recent revelation has raised many questions about what we thought we knew, according to the indy100 website. If the Moon had continued drifting away from Earth at the same pace, it might have collided with our planet about 1.5 billion years ago, which, as we know, never happened.
This new discovery about the growing gap between the Moon and Earth is intriguing, but it’s not a perfect guide to the past, says Professor Joshua Davies at the Université du Québec à Montréal, along with research associate Margriet Lantink from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and their colleagues from Utrecht University and the University of Geneva.
So, why is the Moon gradually moving away from Earth?
Experts think that something called “Milankovitch cycles” could be behind the Moon’s slow drift. These cycles describe slight changes in the shape of Earth’s orbit and its tilt, affecting the amount of sunlight Earth gets.
The amount of sunlight Earth receives has a big impact on its climate, influencing periods of rain and drought. Milankovitch cycles can even lead to dramatic climate shifts in regions, like the greening of the Sahara desert. They also play a key role in the size of Earth’s lakes.
These cycles and their frequencies also have an effect on the distance between the Moon and Earth. Scientists believe that around 2.46 billion years ago, the Moon was much closer to Earth, about 60,000 km closer than it is today. This means Earth used to bask in 17 hours of sunlight daily back then.