Our Moon may one day escape Earth’s orbit and become a ‘ploonet’

Imagine looking up into the night sky many years from now and not seeing the Moon. It would be jarring, to say the least. But researchers are now warning that one day the Moon may escape the the Earth’s orbit and start circling the planet, becoming what’s been dubbed a “ploonet.”

According to Futurism.com:

“An international team of researchers has proposed a hypothetical new type of world it calls a ‘ploonet’: a former moon that escaped its host planet’s orbit and began circling its host star instead.

“The team thinks ploonets could explain several unusual astronomical phenomena — and that our own Moon could one day join their ranks.”

The SpaceX spacecraft Starship passing by the Moon in 2018. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

What other astronomical phenomenon might be better understood as we delve more deeply into ploonets? That’s what has scientists most excited:

“An icy moon’s water could evaporate as it escapes its planet’s orbit and moves toward its star, for example, giving the ploonet a comet-like tail. The passage of such a ploonet across its star might explain why some stars appear to flicker.

“Meanwhile, a ploonet that eventually crashed into its former host could create debris that might explain the strange rings found around some exoplanets.

“’Those structures [rings and flickers] have been discovered, have been observed,’ researcher Mario Sucerquia told Science News. ‘We just propose a natural mechanism to explain [them].'”

The Moon turning red during a lunar eclipse. (Via U.S. Air Force)

Another mystery we might finally get a solution to is why we’ve yet to find any exomoons, despite the presence of exoplanets across the universe. Shouldn’t exoplanets have their own exomoons?

But if astronomers do happen to locate any exomoons, they’d better note them quickly, as they won’t last for long:

“Based on the researchers’ simulations, ploonets also have incredibly short lifespans, astronomically speaking — roughly 50 percent crash into their star or former host planet within half a million years, while others meet the same fate after less than a million years of ploonethood — which could further explain why we haven’t found any.”

Also, there’s no need to fret over not being able to see the Moon while looking into the night sky for some time. It currently moves about 4 centimeters farther away from Earth every year. At that rate, it will take 5 billion years before it breaks away and goes it alone.

Take a brief tour of the Moon for yourself:

Featured Image Via Flickr

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