How the World will End (Jul, 1929)

How the World will End

Scientists who have been tracing the history of the moon declare that the reign of fire and brimstone which will herald the end of the earth will in all probability be brought about by the moon’s falling back upon the earth. The diagrams herewith illustrate the process which astronomers believe will destroy the world after thousands of years. At present the moon is retreating from the earth; the equator bulges slightly as shown by the exaggerated drawing in Figure 1. Lunar tides slow down the earth’s motion until eventually the two bodies will revolve around a common center of gravity. When this state of balance occurs, the attraction of the earth will slowly but surely draw the moon toward it, so that after millions of years some distant astronomer of another world will observe a brilliant white glow which will mark the reduction of earth and moon to a white-hot globe of gas.

12 comments
  1. fluffy says: April 6, 20119:08 am

    Of course, now we know that the moon is actually getting further and further from the Earth all the time.

    However, tidal forces will likely cause the Earth to eventually always have one side facing the sun, and the sun will probably swallow the Earth when it runs out of hydrogen anyway. Repent, sinners, for we only have a few billion years left.

  2. JMyint says: April 6, 20119:21 am

    Yep the average distance to the Moon has increased by almost a foot since 1969. So in some 210,000 years it will be averaging a mile further out. Time is short ye men.

  3. Hirudinea says: April 6, 20119:47 am

    “I’ll give you the Moon if you want, my dear!”, “Big deal, it’s already in your backyard!”

  4. whoozle whaazle says: April 6, 201111:01 am

    So from the diagram, the world shall burst into flames once the Moon hits the Earth?

  5. Jayessell says: April 6, 201111:39 am

    Before colliding with Earth when the moon reaches the Roche limit tidal
    Forces would tear it apart forming a ring of debris.

  6. Charlene says: April 6, 20112:00 pm

    The Earth and Moon already revolve around a common centre of gravity.

  7. John Savard says: April 6, 20113:12 pm

    Well, item 1 on that diagram shows that they realized then that the Moon is currently getting further from the Earth. Presumably, that will stop when the Earth is slowed by the tides to such an extent that one side of the Earth always faces the Moon.

    Now, once that happens, what would cause the Moon to start getting closer to the Earth? The drag of the interplanetary medium?

    It took a while, but I found the answer on the Web. The solar tides also affect the Earth’s angular momentum, slowing down the Earth’s rotation even further. When the Earth rotates more slowly than the Moon orbiting the Earth, tidal forces now act to slow the Moon down, pulling it in. However, it will take three billion years, apparently, for the Moon to hit the Roche limit. Still, when it does that, the Earth will be bombarded by a lot of fragments – before the Sun goes off the Main Sequence.

    So that is a valid possibility for “how the world will end”.

  8. carlm says: April 7, 201112:18 am

    Nobody noticed that the statement of this happening “in thousands of years”. That is a blink of an eye in the history of the Earth. Who are these scientists anyway? Even the last statement contradicts the first estimate of when doomsday occurs. Which is still only a few million.

  9. GaryM says: April 7, 201112:17 pm

    It doesn’t say how MANY thousands.

  10. Jari says: April 7, 20111:19 pm

    John Savard: And we would have a Saturn like ring system for a while. And then slightly later (3.5 billion years from now), when our Sun has become 40% hotter, Earths oceans start to boil off.

    carlm: I’d say that the author of the article screwed up. And in 20′s, astronomers weren’t even sure, how old the solar system was. The theory at a time, was that the Sun radiated leftover heat from the solar system formation, which gave the upper limit for the solar system’s age, but there were fossil records, that indicated that the Earth was much older.

  11. TomLR says: April 7, 20113:08 pm

    According to a couple cable science programs I’ve watched, the earth and moon already orbit around a common center that is within the body of the earth itself at this time. Did I misunderstand?

    I’m led to believe that the Steady State theories of Geology reigned supreme in 1929. So did the theory of a Steady State Universe. There were renegades out there, such as Alfred Wegener who proposed the theory of continental drift in 1912, but I’m told that he was still openly being laughed at in the 1940′s. By the 1960′s when I was in 7th grade, I enjoyed checking out and digesting Astronomy books from the library that put forth the idea of the end of the moon (not of the earth itself) by the mechanism depicted in this article. The Roche limit was mentioned, and also the Saturn-style rings. The three who posted about the Roche limit brought back memories! I recall looking up at the night sky trying to imagine what such rings would look like in place of the moon.

    The vast expanses of Geological time were apparently not widely understood in 1929. Also, remember that in 1954 the script for Gojira has the monster being only a few million years old. To most people in 1954 that was incomprehensibly old. But the article in our old 1953 edition of the American Peoples Encyclopedia (pgs 7-113 to 7-115) taught me that the dinos died out by no later than 60 million years ago. Of course, I couldn’t imagine 60 million years (still can’t). It’s fun to speculate, though, both forward and backward in time.

    The 1953 encyclopedia has no article on Continental Drift (it would have been on page 6-170).

    There is no mention of Édouard Roche (1820–83) or his mathematical limit on page 16-831, either. Perhaps the Modern Mechanics editor didn’t think there was enough room to explain certain things that we would want to know these days.

    Watching the understanding of time and space, and how it is communicated to us, change over 59 years has given me an attitude that can be summed up in this question: “What do we believe today that will seem quaint and even stupid to our descendants (and how many of our scientific explanations of things will fall into that category)?” Remember caloric!

  12. Jari says: April 8, 201110:54 am

    @TomLR: You understood that correctly.

    I, myself fumbled with fossils, sorry about that. Memory lapse, I think. A few weeks ago I read a Finnish translation of Agnes Giberne’s “Sun, Moon and Stars: Astronomy for Beginners” (Second, updated printing from 1908). I quickly flipped through the book, and didn’t find any mention of fossils….

    It’s a wonderful universe out there.

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