Blastr: In which I vaporize the Moon

By Phil Plait | March 20, 2012 10:17 am

I write a (very semi) monthly column for Blastr, the online portal for the SyFy Channel, and my latest article strikes close to my geeky heart.

When I was a kid I loved loved loved the TV show "Space: 1999". The premise of the show is that a nuclear waste accident blasts the Moon out of Earth orbit and into deep space, where weird unexplained hijinks ensue. Back then the scientific basis of the show didn’t bother me, but when I became a high-falutin’ science type, I wondered: how much energy would it take to hurl the Moon away from the solar system? And what would happen if it did?

The answer would not have made 13-year-old me happy. But as an adult I love playing with the physics and math, and you might as well admit you’re dying to know. So go read my article, and be glad our Moon has a nice, stable orbit right here around good ol’ planet Earth.


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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Geekery, SciFi, TV/Movies
MORE ABOUT: Blastr, Moon, Space:1999, SyFy

Comments (16)

  1. Jeff

    yeah, I remember that one, I think it twofer paired Martin Landau/Barbara Bain from Mission Impossible as cast members. It was good ole syfy, which I like much better than the computer graphic type of today; but then again I’m a purist that thinks actors should train in shakespeare before going on TV. Can tell I watched TV in the 60s on rabbit ears/top of house antennae, back in those days when NBC proudly showed the peacock in “living color”. To me, good sci fi had cheesy sets and quirky characters like Bill Mumy and the guy that played Dr. Smith, a cowardly character from lost in space, that kind. I like my mind being played with rather than having stark reality put right before my eyes. Reality is everyday stuff that can get mundane, boring, but wow, Rod Serling would tease your mind.

  2. llewelly

    They should have blamed it on dark energy.

  3. Ed Myers

    It was my favorite show back in the day! The saddest day of my young life was when I found out it had been cancelled. I also watched it on antenna. My dad splurged for the expensive one, with a servo motor that could be controlled from in the house to turn the antenna to the best direction to receive the station you wanted.

    If you see it remastered on DVD (and you’re not a 1999′er if you don’t have it) then you’ll realize that it had some pretty high production values. Highly detailed and clear FX, even if a bit cheesy. What else can you ask from your Sci Fi?

  4. OtherRob

    I was around 10 or when it came out and I loved it. The perfect age for shows like that.

  5. It’s worse than that, Phil. If you thrust the moon from the Earth you carry the Earth along with it some – gravitation is reciprocal. Trim the decimals with the Earth-moon barycenter doing some serious relocation from near the Earth’s core then out past the surface and beyond.

    If the blast was on the lunar far side, which way does the moon go relative to the Earth’s position? In comes in for a skimmer – at least! The Earth’s rotation axis skews, Earth’s orbit skews, Earth’s orbit’s eccentricity skews. Yer gonna drown in strongly worded Enviro-whiner petitions as Immanuel Velikovsky looks up from Hell and giggles. Add tectonics and vulcanism from rattled continental plates… and serious “surf’s up!” ocean tides.

  6. chief

    Actually, even if they get the math and physics hammered out to give a better plot point on the moons departure for 2099, I had better have some fantastic writing behind it or it could be drop from production faster than being incinerated as per Phil’s conclusions.

  7. Gary Ansorge

    6. chief

    ,,,or if it’s too bloody expensive. Even good acting and a decent story won’t save it from the economy freaks,,,

    I wish they would hire a science advisor with impeccable credentials in both SciFi and skepticism,,,

    Just hoping, Phil,,,

    Gary 7

  8. I’ve got it- the blast causes an anomalous decoupling of the Moon’s mass from the Higgs boson, and a recoupling with tachyons created by the blast also, which reverts but only after the Moon is on its way. Some stuff WILL fall off, but hopefully not anything you really needed for the trip.

  9. andres

    It’s kind of sad to realize that in the seventies it was common sense to believe that we would have a moon base by 1999

  10. Troy

    I remember Space 1999′s moon escape was an Extra for Experts problem in my calculus text. I never was able to solve it. Other than that I never watched the show but do recall there were a lot of Space 1999 lunch boxes out there (I opted for Scooby Doo). I wonder if anyone from Earth ever bothered to fly a mission to the errant moon? (I guess another question is how long the Moon would be visible)

  11. There’s a guy who’s taken all of the episodes and reworked them into “Space:2099,” and for “Breakaway,” he changed the nature of the accident so that instead of being blown explosively from orbit, the moon enters a tear in space-time. It’s what he could do to adapt, and it looks pretty good, too. He’s still waiting to hear if his work will be picked up. You can see some of it at space2099.tv

  12. @Uncle Al,

    That was my first thought too. A big explosion on the Moon’s far side (enough to actually move the Moon but somehow not tear it to bits) would push the Moon towards us. Best case scenario: Tons of REALLY high tides with lots of flooding as the Moon passes closer to us before flying off into space. Worst case scenario: Moon collides with Earth in a giant, Earth-shattering Kaboom! (As Marvin the Martian chuckles, pleased with his plan to explode the illudium pu-36 explosive space modulator on the Moon’s far side.)

  13. Zippy the Pinhead

    Whenever there’s a show on which has unexplainable physics or depicts ahistorical events, it’s because it’s happening in the other universe where things are … just different.

  14. Lenny V

    I assume the Earth’s angular velocity is high enough to make the moon miss us, even if it should be travelling at some 40km/s (it sits over a lightsecond away from us, after all), but what happens afterwards with the Earth’s orbit? Will we be affected by the moon no longer being there?

    I hear moons have a stabilizing effect on the orientation of a planet’s axis, but both Mars and Venus seem pretty stable despite not having any significant companions, so I assume we won’t start tumbling end-over-end anytime soon anyway. However, might there be other consequences (not tied to tides and whatnot caused by the rapid fly-by itself, I mean.)

  15. Gary Ansorge

    12. TechyDad

    I’ve been waiting for someone else to point out that merely driving Luna toward the earth from an explosion on its far side would NOT cause it to collide with the earth. It would merely make the moons orbit more elliptical, which would be bad enough, since it’s gravitational attraction would vary substantially thru out its orbit, raising holy hell with our tides. Now, setting off such a charge on the leading edge of the moon,,,reducing its orbital velocity would be very bad indeed.

    I like the idea of its falling into a space/time rip,,,

    Gary 7

  16. Matt B.

    Wait. The explosion was on the far side of the Moon? Presuming it was off center and therefore wouldn’t cause the Moon to hit the Earth, it would cause some huge tides as it passed closer than usual.

    And how long would it take for the Moon to be unnoticeable in the sky?

    It would be cool if the remake kept the Moon in the Solar System, so that there could be attempts to put the Moon back. And if the blast were on the near side, you’d have a mass extinction on Earth to deal with too. It would be a great chance to show the immediate aftermath of a calamity, rather than either avoiding it altogether or showing what things are like a long time after, as most movies and TV shows do.

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