Mythbusters: Could you shoot the moon?

Written by Science, Science & Tech

One can’t help but gaze upon the wonders of the night sky and ask, like, really deep questions. How did it all begin? Where does space end? Is there intelligent life somewhere out there in the cosmos? But no proverbial question has quite plagued the pondering mind as much as that which is posed in this week’s Mythbusters. Yes, dear Courier readers, we are asking: Can you shoot the moon?

Now, we’re not talking in the metaphorical sense here; not as in, can you ‘shoot’ the moon with a camera. That would just be silly, of course you can take images of the moon. It’s got it’s own bloody hashtag and over 21 million posts to boot (I particularly like the ones where people pretend to hold it like a little tasty grape lol). Oh no, we’re talking about firing an actual projectile at our celestial neighbour.

[pullquote]Isaac Newton himself was so fanatical about the idea that he proposed pushing a cannon all the way to the top of a mountain to get a good shot at it. [/pullquote]

‘Why would anyone want to do such a thing?’ I hear you ask. Well, the Man in the Moon isn’t as benevolent and pure as you think. Being a sudden social media influencer has gone to his head. He’s forgetting to do his chores, like sorting the tides out. Someone needs to bring him back down to Earth. Well, not literally because that would just be catastrophic.

The idea of shooting the moon might seem ludicrous, but the Science Editors aren’t the first great thinkers to postulate this audacious plan. Isaac Newton himself was so fanatical about the idea that he proposed pushing a cannon all the way to the top of a mountain to get a good shot at it. But with this being 1687, and cannons being really heavy, no one was that keen to give it a try. Fortunately, Newton’s Cannonball thought experiment saved them the all the effort. It showed there was no way a cannonball could achieve the velocity needed to escape the Earth’s gravity and break orbit – even if it was given the slight advantage of being fired from the top of Mt. Everest.

[pullquote]The problem with ballistic projectiles…is that they only accelerate until they exit the barrel. [/pullquote]

Fast forward a few hundred years and we’re all a bit more clued up about the immense power required to achieve an escape velocity. The old Space Shuttles needed millions of pounds of propellent just to get them into low orbit, so it doesn’ take a scientists to realise that firing conventional guns into the sky aint’ gonna do it. But don’t worry folks, we just need a BIGGER gun.

Jules Verne devised a ‘space cannon’ to fire people into space in his 1865 science fiction novel From Earth to the Moon. And as crazy as it sounds, the U.S. military and a host of private companies have researched the idea as an alternative means to launch objects into space. The problem with ballistic projectiles, however, is that they only accelerate until they exit the barrel. This means you would need a barrel at least 60km long, with the projectile accelerating at around 1000 m/s2 to break orbit. Unfortunately, these speeds would cause cause most objects to break into into smouldering shrapnel long before they broke orbit.

So, it is theoretically possible to shoot the moon, but it would take an insane amount of investment to make it feasible. What we need is a fanatical billionaire to invest. I’ve emailed Elon Musk to run the idea by him. For the time being, please don’t like any more moon photos on social media.

Last modified: 30th April 2018

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