We knew very little abut the Moon in the earliest days of civilization. As it moved across the sky it was first considered a god chasing the sun in a never ending race. Our knowledge about the Moon today is vastly more accurate then what the ancients knew. We can speculate how the Moon was formed and what the Earth would have been like without the Moon. It is fully realized now that the conditions created by having our Moon made life on Earth possible.
Massive amounts of material was placed into orbit when, based on the Great Impact Theory, another planet the size of Mars collided with the Earth. At first a ring circled the Earth but later, due to gravity, collected together to form the Moon. Only the Earth has such a large moon when compared to the size of the planet it orbits. Our moon is quite unique and our planet has greatly benefited from the effects of such a large moon.
The Moon first formed only about 15 to 20 thousand miles up when the debris finally collected together. The material combined very quickly and by 4.25 billion years ago the Moon was fully developed. It wasn't until 3.8 billion years when the Earth first formed its oceans. Our planet was completely covered in water when the Moon was still very close; merely 50 thousand miles away. The effects of the Moon being so close was to have tides reaching thousands of feet high. The effect of these tidal waves was to slow the rotation of the Earth. An initial rotational speed of 6 hours eventually came to be 24 hours. We may not know when this speed was eventually achieved but it most certainly had an affect on the course of evolution.
Land masses grew as time went on and the moon moved further away, substantially subsiding the tidal effect. Yet, the materials of life continued to churn as the tides steadily blended the materials together. We may not know how or when life started but it's fairly certain the Moon was a major contributor in the process.
One more facet which permitted life to develop appears to be the stabilization of the rotational axis of Earth. Our Moon has allowed the Earth to remain on the same tilt of 23.5 degrees for all these many years. The Earth could have shifted its rotational axis as much as 90 degrees if it wasn't for the Moon keeping it stable. A seasonal change for the north pole would mean to either point straight at the sun or sit in complete darkness. What a climatic upheaval there would have been with our poles in the hot zone and the bulk of the planet rotating in the frigate areas.
One more benefit in the retention of a huge Moon turned out to be having a defensive shield guarding us from meteor or comet impacts. True, Earth has taken many hits which tested the breaking point of life but take one look at the moon and it becomes clear many major impacts were prevented. The chain of evolution could have been disturbed to the point that we might have never developed if any one of these impacts took place on Earth and not on the Moon.
So when you next look at the Moon, or observe it through a modern-day telescope, remember that Earth and the conditions we enjoy would be very different without it. The Moon slowed down the rotation of the Earth and stabilized the axis which caused a mild and dependable climate. Life as we know it would simply not exist if not for our wondrous Moon.
Christopher Maruca has been an ardent observer of the sky for many years. Visit his website to read his opinion on what is the best equipment to use including the for the beginner and the very popular for the more advanced star-gazer.