Apollo Astronaut Admits ‘H̳u̳m̳a̳n̳s̳ Descended From A̳l̳i̳e̳n̳s’ On LIVE TV
American flags, footprints, broken spacecraft, some plutonium, a couple of golf balls, a bible and a surprisingly large amount of human faeces. This is what humanity has left behind on the moon.
More than 50 years ago, US astronaut Neil Armstrong took that first “giant leap for mankind” onto the lunar surface, and over the following three years, 11 more astronauts across six crewed Apollo missions walked on the moon, collecting rocks that changed our understanding of how the Earth and the moon came to be (and even sneaking in a round or two of golf). But humans haven’t been back since.
Now another space race is kicking off, this time driven by not only geopolitical rivalry but a growing private industry (and some enthusiastic billionaires). NASA plans to land humans on the moon again in 2025, the first step to developing a permanent lunar base (with the aid of an Australian-made rover). C̳h̳i̳n̳a̳, Russia and other powers have similar ambitions. The moon is not only seen as a crucial launch pad for human missions to Mars and beyond – it’s rich in resources of its own, from rare metals to ice water. Consequently, it’s likely to be the first real frontier where space rules are made and tested.
Of course, scientists will tell you the moon is more important than any of that. Without its pull, life on Earth may not even be possible to begin with.
But, if you ask a guy named Dennis Hope in California, he owns the moon – having filed the paperwork at his local council 40 years ago – and all these big lofty plans to develop it will need his sign-off.
So, how are space lawyers unravelling who gets to take what from the moon? What will the rules up there look like? And why do we even have a moon?
What is the moon anyway?
Getting our moon was probably the best and the worst thing to ever happen to the Earth. The best because, without the stabilising gravity of our unusually large moon, we wouldn’t have the tides, and the Earth would wobble on its axis, swinging our climate from searing hot to freezing cold, perhaps too fast for life to adapt. And the worst because it really would have been the worst day in Earth’s history. It’s thought that our planet and another, roughly the size of Mars, collided in the early solar system some 4.5 billion years ago, soon (at least, cosmically speaking) after they had formed in the whirlpool of leftover gas and dust that forged our sun.
Earth would have been engulfed in fire but the other planet, named Theia for the mother of the moon goddess in Greek mythology, came off even worse, shattering apart in the smash. The moon is debris from the fallout, locked in Earth’s orbit.
This kind of A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳, cataclysmic “fender bender”, as astrophysicist Professor Jonti Horner at the University of Queensland calls it, is the leading explanation for why our moon is so big compared to other moons we’ve seen (almost a quarter the size of the Earth); and why it’s covered in a bright, glittery rock (the cooled remains of a magma ocean).
“Even with the naked eye, the moon sometimes seems close enough to reach out and touch,” says NASA scientist Professor Darby Dyar, who still remembers when the “mind-blowing” giant impact theory was first proposed. It is close, only 1.3 light seconds (or roughly 380,000 kilometres) from Earth, though each year it inches another four centimetres away. Dyar watched the Apollo astronauts “bouncing around [the moon] on grainy television broadcasts” as a kid and in 1979, as a 21-year-old PhD student, she found herself studying the lunar samples they brought home. “You can understand why my hands shook every time I had to handle them,” she says. “They still do!”
Those rocks changed our understanding of where the moon came from. But they threw up new mysteries too. Scientists thought that the moon must be a leftover chunk of Theia, likely its old core. But, while “it’s not made of cheese”, Horner says the moon is not made of the dense, heavy elements, such as iron, we’d expect to find in the core of an old, rocky planet like Theia either. Instead, it’s lighter, more like our Earth’s mantle and crust, with a tiny core. And when we study the moon’s chemical isotopes – that’s the signature of how rocks formed in different parts of the solar system – we find that the moon doesn’t look like a different a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳ world at all. It looks like Earth. “Every planet bears the scars of how they formed; they’re shaped by those final moments,” Horner explains. “But [chemically] it looks like the moon and Earth formed in the same place.”