Moon Drifting: New Technology Needed to Solve this Mystery of the Moon

August 16, 2023

Billions of years of evolution continue to hold the mystery of the Earth-moon relationship. As we know, the moon is a celestial body that is tidally locked to the Earth in an orbital rotation. What we don’t know is the full science behind this relationship, and how it contributes to the phenomenon of moon drifting. To solve this mystery of why the moon is drifting away, scientists are exploring new research techniques and integrating innovative technology in the quest to understand the mechanics behind this continual drift, and the devastation of losing our moon altogether.

What We Know About the Moon

The moon and Earth are tied to each other in orbit, with the moon traveling around the Earth once every 27.322 days. The moon is tidally locked to our planet, meaning it only spins once on its axis for each orbit, and thus, only shows the Earth one face of its body in a synchronous rotation. The moon also affects the movement of our ocean through its gravitational pull, which creates distortions in the Earth’s tidal formations. But if the Earth and the moon are so closely tied, then why is the moon drifting away? Continued research on the mechanics behind this relationship shows it is much more complex than scientists initially thought.

Getting the Drift on Moon Drifting

We still do not have a full understanding of the evolution of the Earth-moon system despite scientific efforts. During the 1969 NASA Apollo missions, astronauts installed reflective panels on the moon in an attempt to aid future research in this area. Through use of laser technology, researchers routinely measure the distance of the moon by analyzing the time it takes to receive a signal. This method has indicated that the moon is currently moving about 1.496 inches (3.8 cm) away from the Earth every year. Scientists then attempted to use this as a model for prediction, but variations throughout time suggest that this drift is not static, and that further analysis and understanding is needed to fully grasp how far the moon will move, and when.

There are many aspects to consider when studying the moon, which lay ironically, beneath the Earth’s surface. Striated alterations in the Earth’s core give insight into evolutionary changes in climate, length of days, and axial tilt — all of which contribute to the body of research that helps estimate the distance between the Earth and the moon both 2.5 billion years ago and today. And it is believed that tidal locking may be contributable to this drift. The ebb and flow of the gravitational pull that these bodies exert on each other causes friction in a cosmic effect that pushes the moon further away. And while we may never see it in our lifetime, losing the moon from our orbital pull entirely would be catastrophic, with extreme changes in the Earth’s climate and rotation that would cause ice ages and extinctions. Understanding the moon drift phenomenon now could significantly help in predicting, and possibly preventing, this future.

New Moon Drift Modeling Approaches and Space Technology

Further research into the Earth-moon relationship, and the subsequent moon drift, requires new modeling approaches for more reliable data. So, how do we find this data? Scientists are not only exploring the use of archaeological digs and astrochronology to excavate data that will contribute to space studies — they are also looking at new ways to use technology in artificial intelligence and machine learning that could help pave the way for more robust research in this still developing area. Predictive modeling, universe mapping, and pattern analysis of space objects are possible methods that can assist in their search for answers. Researching other planets with moons, such as Saturn, can lend to new theories in orbital relationships as well. 

Additionally, advancements seen with new NASA programs like the DART mission and the James Webb Space Telescope will help in understanding near-Earth objects (NEOs) and their relationship with our planet, as well as the evolutionary origins of our universe and how objects like the moon were created. However, the subject of moon drifting is still in need of dedicated research to answer this 2.5-billion-year-old mystery.

The Need for Space Technology Experts

With so much to explore in our universe, and so many yet unanswered questions, the field of astronautical and space engineering is in need of talented professionals seeking to innovate and lead the future of this technology. If you want to be a part of this mission, Capitol Technology University can guide you. Our space education programs are top-rated and provide students with hands-on experience using real space equipment for ground station builds, observatory research, and CubeSat launches. Our faculty are industry-experts that provide job-relevant mentorship. Our campus is centered in the nation’s technology hub and employers like NASA, the U.S. Space Command, JHU/APL, and other leaders in space often seek our students to fill their internship and job opportunities. Several of our alumni currently work with NASA and have served in crucial roles for major projects like the James Webb Space Telescope

For more information on how to join the exciting field of space technology, visit our website today!