Is the Moon More Important Than the Sun? A New Book Exposes Our Satellite’s Forgotten Power

In “Our Moon,” Rebecca Boyle reintroduces us to the Moon’s power.

The moon in the night sky in clouds 3D illustration. 3D Illustration

Humanity is at an inflection point with the Moon, Rebecca Boyle argues in her new book “Our Moon,” which came out earlier this year.

Around the world, space agencies and the private sector have been trying to land robotic missions on the Moon, staking out their part in a new lunar economy. And as soon as next year, NASA’s Artemis program will fly four astronauts around the Moon to gather data for how to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon.

But in a recent interview with Inverse, Boyle reveals that too often the Moon can seem dull and inconvenient (even to astronomers), or even a hard-won geopolitical prize. But our satellite celestial body is essential to everything we take for granted here on Earth, Boyle says. In “Our Moon,” she takes readers through the history of the Moon’s existence, its essential role in shaping the emergence of many forms of life on Earth, and why now, more than ever, we should interrogate our current relationship with our lunar orbiter.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Inverse: In the book, you make the point that the Moon can be a hindrance. What do you mean by that?

Rebecca Boyle: It’s really bright! If you’re an astronomer studying dark energy, distant planets, star formation, and planetary formation processes across the galaxy, you have to schedule observations at some of the world’s largest telescopes when the Moon’s not up. It’s frustrating if you’re a scientist studying these other phenomena. Especially transient phenomena that you have to time just right to see, like comets. I’ve talked to a lot of astronomers who say, whatever, the Moon is dull.

Book cover of “Our Moon” by Rebecca Boyle.

Random House

On April 8, during the solar eclipse, the Moon will take center stage in front of the Sun. Will this help the Moon’s popularity?

During the eclipse, the Moon is the real thing that you are actually seeing change. But it’s the Sun that gets all the glory! Which I mean, it’s the Sun. It’s the giver of life. It’s the source of all there is. So that’s fair. But, the Moon is about to have an interesting kind of moment in the spotlight.

I think a lot of amateur astronomers love the Moon and appreciate it. That’s kind of my perspective. I write about professional astronomy but I’m not a trained astronomer. So maybe I have that perspective. That the Moon is like, still special and unique to me.

What surprised you the most from reporting out the book?

To me, the most surprising takeaway in the book is the probable influence the Moon has had on the evolution of life on Earth.

Most scientists and astrobiologists believe life started in the oceans. But where in the ocean is still up for debate. Some people still prefer the theory that tidal pools, or “warm little pools” (as Darwin called them), which exist at the water’s edge are where life may have sparked into being. Now, more lately, people talk about life beginning in mid-ocean ridges, like in the sea floor.

Either way, the Moon would have played a huge role. Either because the tide (which the Moon controls) caused these tidal pools to form or, if life began in the deep ocean, the Moon would have been what moved early life forms around and dredged them up, and exposed them to the Sun for the first time so they could learn how to photosynthesize.

Then later on, after life evolved, the Moon could have played a huge role in bringing life onto land. Tetrapods, the little fleshy bony fish that are all of our ancestors, came on to land in the Devonian Period in the age of fishes. This is some 350 million years ago.

Eusthenopteron (bottom) was near the main line of evolution that lead to tetrapods. Ichthyostega (top) was closely related to tetrapods, and a tail similar to those found in fishes.


During that period, the Moon had really extreme tidal cycles, because the Moon was closer to Earth. At the time, some ocean basins are closing up, because Pangaea is starting to form. So, several ocean basins are getting narrower and shallower, and sort of closing. This causes really extreme tidal shifts between high and low tide. This is in the same land masses where we find the first fossil evidence and the first trackways of tetrapods, walking on land.

If you’re a fish, and you’re in shallow water, and the water is rushing out, I mean this would have been like 80 feet of water from high to low tide, so it’s going away really quickly. So you better learn how to get out of there and swim really fast, or learn how to breathe the air and move your body across the sand instead of just through the water.

I think this has only pretty recently been recognized in the paleontological literature, the role of the tide. It’s so intuitive but we only put this together in the last few years.

You started reporting this book in 2019. A lot has happened in those 5 years, especially for lunar exploration. What does it feel like to have published the book right when the Moon is exploding in popularity?

I was honestly really glad. I hope people read the book in the context of this. It’s really important to consider the past that we’ve had with the Moon.

I’m super excited for Artemis. It’s going to be really interesting for the Moon. I think it’s important to be up there. I think it’s really important for humans to be up there, not just robotic explorers. There’s something sort of transcendentally profound about human presence on another world.

A NASA mosaic of the Moon, created from images of the agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), taken with the spacecraft’s LROC Wide Angle Camera.

NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

What do you think the future of human presence on the Moon will look like?

I don’t personally think that it’ll be like a permanent settlement. I don’t envision a huge Moon city settlement and development up there. It’s too inhospitable, too difficult, and too expensive.

That’s transient to me. Transient also just describes the human experience. This planet is four and a half billion years old. The Moon is four and a half billion years old. Humans are like two million years old. We are a drop in the bucket. And Earth and the Moon will be here long after we are not.

I say that in part to paint just the contrast. One thing that people are surprised by sometimes when I mention this is that the Moon does not protect itself. The Moon has no processes to erase us, or do anything to itself ever. I think we get used to that on this planet. Earth has the plate tectonic cycle, it has active geology, it has wind and rain, and erosion. And all these processes remake this planet through time. The Moon has none of that. So anything we do to it will last forever. Which to me is a huge responsibility. People don’t necessarily think about it.

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