Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/506

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oped; back again to the much earlier period when colossal reptiles and birds were the chief inhabitants of the earth; back again to those still earlier ages when the luxuriant forests nourished that have siren birth to the coal-fields; back once more to the age of fishes; back finally to those earliest periods when the lowest forms of life began to dawn in the Palæozoic era.

As we date remote ages astronomically by the distance of the moon, so we date remote ages geologically by the prevailing organic life. It is a great desideratum to harmonize these two chronological systems, and to find out, if possible, what lunar distance corresponds to each geological epoch. In the whole field of natural science there is no more noble problem. Take, for examine, that earliest and most interesting epoch when life perhaps commenced on the earth, and when stratified rocks were deposited five or ten miles thick, which seem to have contained no living forms higher than the humble Eozoön, if even that were an organized being. Let us ask what the distance of the moon was at the time when those stupendous beds of sediment were deposited in the primeval ocean. We have in this comparison every element of uncertainty except one. The exception is, however, all-important. We know that the moon must have been nearer to the earth than it is at present. There are many very weighty reasons for supposing that the moon must have been very much nearer than it is now. It is not at all unlikely that the moon may then have been situated at only a small fraction of its present distance. My argument is only modified, but not destroyed, whatever fraction we may take. We must take some estimate for the purpose of illustration. I have had considerable doubts what estimate to adopt. I am desirous of making my argument strong enough, but I do not want to make it seem exaggerated. At present the moon is 240,000 miles away; but there was a time when the moon was only one sixth part of this, or, say, 40,000 miles away. That time must have corresponded to some geological epoch. It may have been earlier than the time when the Eozoön lived. It is more likely to have been later. I want to point out that, when the moon was only 40,000 miles away, we had in it a geological engine of transcendent power.

On the primitive oceans the moon raised tides as it does at present; but the 40,000-mile moon was a far more efficient tide-producer than our 240,000-mile moon. The nearer the moon the greater the tide. To express the relation accurately we say that the efficiency of the moon in producing tides varies inversely as the cube of its distance. Here, then, we have the means of calculating the tidal efficiency for any moon-distance. The 40,000-mile moon being at a distance of only one sixth of our present moon's distance, its tidal efficiency would be increased 6 X 6 X 6 fold. In other words, when our moon was only 40,000 miles away, it was 216 times as good a tide-producer as it is at present.