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The Moon

The Moon, sometimes called 'Luna', is a relatively large terrestrial planet-like satellite, whose diameter is about one-quarter of the Earth's. With the exception of Pluto's Charon, it is the largest moon in the Solar system relative to the size of its planet. The natural satellites orbiting other planets are called "moons", after Earth's Moon.

The gravitational attraction between the Earth and Moon cause the tides on Earth. The same effect on the Moon has led to its tidal locking: Its rotation period is the same as the time it takes to orbit the Earth. As a result, it always presents the same face to the planet.

As the Moon orbits Earth, different parts of its face are illuminated by the Sun, leading to the lunar phases: The dark part of the face is separated from the light part by the solar terminator.

The Moon may dramatically affect the development of life by moderating the weather. Paleontological evidence and computer simulations show that Earth's axial tilt is stabilised by tidal interactions with the Moon. Some theorists believe that, without this stabilization against the torques applied by the Sun and planets to the Earth's equatorial bulge, the rotational axis might be chaotically unstable, as it appears to be with Mars. If Earth's axis of rotation were to approach the plane of the ecliptic, extremely severe weather could result, as this would make seasonal differences extreme. One pole would be pointed directly toward the Sun during summer and directly away during winter. Planetary scientists who have studied the effect claim that this might kill all large animal and higher plant life. This remains a controversial subject, however, and further studies of Mars—which shares Earth's rotation period and axial tilt, but not its large moon or liquid core—may provide additional insight.

The Moon is just far enough away to have, when seen from Earth, very nearly the same apparent angular size as the Sun (the Sun is 400 times larger, but the Moon is 400 times closer). This allows total eclipses and annular eclipses to occur on Earth.

The most widely accepted theory of the Moon's origin, the Giant impact theory, states that it was formed from the collision of a Mars-size protoplanet with the early Earth. This hypothesis explains (among other things) the Moon's relative lack of iron and volatile elements, and the fact that its composition is nearly identical to that of the Earth's crust.

Earth also has at least one known co-orbital asteroid, 3753 Cruithne.

Earthrise as seen from the Moon on Apollo 8, 24 December 1968

Earthrise as seen from the Moon on Apollo 8, 24 December 1968

Earth and Moon to scale.

Earth and Moon to scale.

 

 

 

All text of this article available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (see Copyrights for details).



 
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