Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/509

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

the earth is much more than the primitive three hours, yet that of the moon has increased to several times the rotation of the earth.

The moon recedes still farther and farther, and at length a noticeable epoch is reached, to which I must call attention. At that epoch the moon is so far out that its revolution takes twenty-nine times as long as the rotation of the earth. The month was then twenty-nine times the day. The duration of the day was less than the present twenty-four hours, but I do not believe it was very much less. The time we are speaking of is not very remote, perhaps only a very few million years ago. The month was then in the zenith of its glory. The month was never twenty-nine times as long as the day before. It has never been twenty-nine times as long as the day since. It will never be twenty-nine times as long as the day again.

Resuming our history, we find the moon still continuing to revolve in an ever-widening circle, the length of the month and of the day both increasing. The ratio of the day to the month was still undergoing a change. When the moon was a little farther off, the earth only revolved twenty-eight times instead of twenty-nine times in one revolution of the moon. Still, the velocity of the earth abates until it only makes twenty-seven revolutions in one revolution of the moon. This is an epoch of especial interest, for it is the present time. In the present order of things the moon revolves round the earth once while the earth rotates twenty-seven times. This has remained sensibly true for thousands of years, and no doubt will remain sensibly true for thousands of years to come, but it will not remain true indefinitely. Wondrous as are the changes which have occurred in times past, not less wondrous are the changes which are to occur in time to come. The tides have guided our gropings into the past; they will continue to guide our researches to make a forecast of the future.

Farther and farther will the moon retreat, and more and more slowly will the earth revolve. But we shall not pause at intervening stages; we shall try to sketch the ultimate type to which our system tends. In the dim future, many millions of years distant, the final stage will be approached. As this stage draws nigh, the rotation of the earth will again approach to equality with the revolution of the moon. From the present month of twenty-seven days we shall pass to a month of twenty-six days, of twenty-five days, and so on, until eventually we shall reach a month of two days, and lastly a month of one day. When this state has been attained the earth will constantly turn the same region toward the moon. I do not know what is the locality on the earth which is destined for this distinction.

Here you see that the first state and the last state of the earth-moon history are in one sense identical. In each case the same face of the earth is constantly directed toward the moon. In another way, how different are the first stage and the last! At the beginning the day and the month were both equal, and they were each three hours.