“You should start out by quarter of.” My son-in-law placed my suitcase by their front door. “Three at the latest. And you’ll need time to return the rent-a-car.”
“You set the alarm clock?” asked my daughter.
“You have both passports? Israel and America?”
I checked. Yes, I did.
We were saying goodbye on my last night in San Diego, and in a few hours, while they slept, I’d be leaving for L.A. My El Al flight was at 7.
“You filled up the tank?”
“There’s an all-night Starbucks on the freeway,” said Mimi. “You know how to get to the onramp?”
“You take a left out of our street and at the top of the hill, you turn ri-”
“Oh yeah, yeah, right, I know. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
They stood there, hesitant, going down a mental checklist. Not infrequently on previous visits, I had found new and creative ways to mess up.
“And when you get onto the freeway,” said Dovy, “make sure it’s 205 North. If the signs say south, you’re on your way to Mexico.”
“Oh come on!” I laughed, and he smiled. “I’m not that ditzy.”
There was a pulling on my heart as I passed their room, then the children’s room….Feeling my way along the hall and down the stairs, tiptoeing through their dark house…lugging and dragging my suitcase through the front door…and then, outside…into the immense and misty Californian night.
Across the street, the neighbors’ towering eucalyptus was vaulting upwards, its black, shadowy wings lifted up towards the starry firmament.
All alone in the big, soft darkness before dawn, I set sail through the empty streets, all my senses alert and on edge.
Turning the key in the ignition, backing out cautiously, trying to keep the car from raising its hoarse and husky voice…navigating the little cul-de-sac, home after little home of dreaming little families...and then…taking a right out of the neighborhood, now I could relax.
All alone in the big, soft darkness before dawn, when mankind was fast asleep, I set sail through San Diego’s empty streets, all my senses alert and on edge. There was the turnoff! Up onto the onramp and I was on my way, gliding free.
The radio at this hour was mostly static, but I spun the dial until I landed in some sort of New Age interview program — catering, apparently, to all the insomniac, restless, solitary souls strewn out over the somnolent American heartland like tiny points of light. An amiable moderator with a faint hint of Midwestern twang was just introducing Dr. Christopher Knight, a British astrophysicist, who from 3 a.m. to 5 (great!—they’d get me all the way to the airport) would be sharing some peculiar facts about…the moon.
"It is a puzzling quirk, indeed,” said Dr. Knight in his clipped English accent, “that the disc of the moon should seem, from an earthly perspective, to be exactly the same size as the sun. Whilst we casually take it for granted that the two main bodies seen in Earth’s skies look the same size, the probability of this being the case is virtually nil.”
“But isn’t that just because the moon’s so much closer to us than the sun?”
“That’s certainly the case, Jim. But the question remains: why do moon and sun appear to us on earth as precisely equal discs? The remarkable answer is that while our planet’s moon is exactly 1/400th the size of the sun, its distance from the earth is exactly 1/400th the distance of the sun from the earth. Whilst the surprisingly neat number of 400 for relative size and distance is apparently an amusing coincidence of the decimal counting system, the odds against this happening are huge. Experts have always been deeply puzzled by the phenomenon. Isaac Asimov, the respected scientist and science-fiction guru, described this perfect visual alignment as being ‘the most unlikely coincidence imaginable.’ That kind of mathematical correspondence does not occur anywhere else, on any of the other planets in our solar system. Furthermore, this perfect fit of the lunar and solar discs is an optical illusion.”
“An optical illusion?” said Jim. “You mean, not real?”
“By definition, optical illusions are ‘unreal.’ The perplexing thing about this optical illusion is that it would seem to be designed, remarkably enough, especially for a human being’s perspective, because it only works from the viewpoint of a human being standing on the earth’s surface.”
Traffic was pleasantly light. For a second I scanned the night sky but if the moon was up there, the freeway’s occasional oncoming headlights were the only visible luminaries.
“Another incomprehensible coincidence,” Dr. Knight continued, “is that the moon precisely imitates the perceived annual movements of the sun. When the sun is at its lowest and weakest in midwinter, the full moon is at its highest and brightest, while in midsummer, when the sun is at its highest and brightest, the moon is at its weakest. It would be easy to dismiss these sun-mimicking performances by saying that it is simply a consequence of the moon’s distance from the earth and its orbital characteristics. And indeed, this is what most scientifically trained people will say, because it is self-evidently true. To the scientifically trained mind, these phenomena absolutely must be understood, again, as inevitable coincidence—a result of the virtually incalculable vastness of time and space, because otherwise, it would suggest the intervention of a creative intelligence.”
“Oh, you mean God?”
“We shall consider that possibility shortly but before we do, let’s first take note of a few of the other interesting quirks of nature related to our moon. Tell me, Jim, why do you think that one of the features of our planet is seasonal change?”
“Well, let’s see. Gotta think back to elementary school. I know it’s got something to do with how close the earth is to the sun.”
"It seems highly unlikely that higher life forms would exist at all were it not for the 22.5 degree angle relative to the sun."
“That’s a common misunderstanding, Jim. It’s actually due to the angle of the planet in relation to the sun, which is about 22.5 degrees from what might be described as a vertical position. If the earth were, instead, in the upright mode, life would be almost impossible across much of the planet, with extremes of temperature providing only a narrow band suitable for mammals such as humans to survive. Even then, the sea and air currents would move wildly between the hot and cold zones, causing catastrophic weather conditions with regions of permanent rainfall and others with none at all. Hurricanes and tornadoes would ravage many areas and overall it seems highly unlikely that higher life forms would exist at all were it not for the 22.5 degree angle relative to the sun. How is this angle maintained? It is maintained by the moon, which acts as a gigantic planetary stabilizer.
“Now let us turn our attention, for a moment, to the sun itself. The diameter of the sun is estimated at 1,392,000 km, and as the average diameter of the earth is 12,742 km., it follows that 109.245 earths would be placed side by side along the diameter of the sun. This is not a number that stands out for any reason, but when we looked at the number of sun diameters in the earth’s aphelion (its greatest distance to the sun) we found that there are 109.267, effectively an identical value because the estimate of the sun’s diameter is within this tiny margin. How strange. There are the same number of earth diameters in the sun’s diameter as there are sun diameters between the earth and the sun. This is a near-perfect echo that does not work for any other planet in the solar system.”
Interviewer and interviewee sallied back and forth for who knows how many miles about the immeasurable unlikelihood of this and other related phenomena. Every quarter hour or so there’d be a commercial break and I’d spin impatiently through the channels while waiting for the interview to come back on. But it was a lovely ride. I had the freeway almost to myself. At one point, I tuned in just as Christopher Knight was saying that no other known planet has such a narrow temperature band.
“Our earth is subjected to a range of temperature that permits water to be liquid most of the time. In fact, water is a very curious substance altogether. On earth we can see it at the same time in its three states—as solid ice, as liquid water, and as a gas in clouds. Each water molecule is composed of just two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen and yet it acts as a universal solvent with a high surface tension. As everyone knows, warm water rises as convection currents but it is also true that ice floats. Other planets in our solar system may have ice or steam but only the earth is awash with life-giving liquid water. Liquid water has been absolutely crucial in creating the world we know today and as far as is known, life cannot exist without it.
“With only a small change in the overall temperature of the earth, or an alternation in the seasonal patterns, the nature of the water on our planet would change. As we have seen, a more pronounced planetary tilt would lead to a freezing of the oceans. On the other hand, if the earth were not tilted at all, the equatorial regions would become unbearably hot and weather patterns across the planet would be radically changed. It is therefore vital for our existence that the tilt of the earth has been maintained at around 22.5 degrees, yet this is a very unlikely state of affairs. Venus is the nearest planet to earth and the most similar to ours, but it shows signs of having varied markedly in the tilt across time. The earth is very active internally and highly unstable, yet despite a few periodic wobbles, it keeps the same angle relative to the sun.
“The moon has a sidereal rotation period of 655.728 hours, which means it rotates once every 27.322 earth days. Given that the moon has an equatorial circumference of 10, 920.8 kilometers, this means that the moon is turning at 400 kilometers per earth day. So consider these facts as a whole: The moon is 1/400th the size of the sun. The moon is 400 times closer to the earth than the sun. The moon is rotating at the rate of 400 km. per earth day. The earth is rotating at 40,000 kilometers a day and the moon is turning at a rather precise 100 times less.
"The moon appears to have been inserted into the sun-earth relationship with the accuracy of the proverbial Swiss clock."
“Some people would not get to the point of recognizing the patterns in the ratios within the sun-earth-moon system. And a scientifically trained person looking at any one of these points would almost certainly respond that all numbers are equally valid. A value such as 100 or 40,000 dropping out of the mix is just as likely as any other number. We absolutely agree with this view and we would ignore such results if they were only happening once or even twice, but we are confronting a whole list of non-random-looking values. If we look at the available information logically, the moon appears to have been inserted into the sun-earth relationship with the accuracy of the proverbial Swiss clock. In our view, anyone who dismisses all of these points as coincidence is being either very illogical or downright dishonest. As the astro-biologist Paul Davies once said, ‘Most people take the existence of life for granted, but to a physicist like me it seems astounding. How do stupid atoms do such clever things?’ To which I’ll add the following: it’s true that if someone tosses a coin 100 times and it comes out heads every time, the chance of the next toss resulting in another head is exactly 50-50. However, if this ever happens to you, I would suggest you check that the coin is not double-headed.”
“So what you’re talking about,” said Jim, “is the science of probability.”
“Yes. Virtually all scientific discovery is a process of identifying patterns that stand out from the chaos of random events. When something varies markedly from the norm, there is usually a reason. One thing is certain in all this: no moon would mean no humans. The more we have looked into how our planet developed into a paradise for living creatures, the more surprised we became. Opinions vary among myself and my colleagues but the common thread is that we recognize evidence of intelligent design.”
“Oh, so you mean…a benevolent crea—“
“Let’s put it this way: what these facts indicate is that the moon was engineered by an unknown agency to act as an incubator to promote intelligent life on earth.”
“Oh, so, umm, I presume this…that this means you are talking about…”
“Most of the 92% of the American population who state that they believe in God would probably assume coincidence. Only a minority might claim that it is the grand plan of the Almighty. Let me point out that such a conclusion cannot be dismissed out of hand as religious fanaticism or self-delusion. Have you heard of Anthony Flew?”
“The How to Think Straight author?”
“Exactly. At the age of 89, after sixty-six years as a leading champion of atheism and logical thinking, Professor Flew has been led by the accumulated mass of new information over recent decades to state that science appears to have proven the existence of God. Flew’s reason for this monumental about-turn is the discovery of evidence pointing at some sort of intelligence that must have created the world we inhabit. He has particularly cited the biological investigation of DNA, which has shown an unbelievable complexity of the arrangements needed to produce life, leading to the conclusion that intelligence must have been involved. Now Flew is a man of principle, and when he was asked if his new ideas would upset the scientific community, he replied by saying, ‘That’s too bad. My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato’s Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.’”
“Hasn’t he been discredited, though?” asked Jim.
“Only in the eyes of certain of his colleagues in the scientific community, who in response to his deviation from basic scientific dogma have decided that Professor Flew must be suffering from either Alzheimer’s or dementia.”
“Excuse me for pressing you on this point, but what do you th--?”
"The only possible answer to the question of what, or who, was capable of creating the moon is that aliens conducted visitations to our planet billions of years ago.”
“I will answer as follows: Nature abhors a vacuum, but we scientists abhor a vacuum even more. Something must be found to explain the inexplicable. We are talking about many factors here that logically should bear no relationship to each other at all. Taken in isolation, any one of these strange associations might be considered a coincidence, but there comes a time when coincidences become so frequent that something else must be at work.”
“And that something else…?”
“A super-intelligence. Some people, as I have said, regard this entity as an omnipotent, benevolent God, Who answers prayers, an idea to which I personally cannot subscribe. For our purposes here, we shall designate it, ‘UCA,’ which stands for Unknown Creative Agency. I have concluded that the only possible answer to the question of what, or who, was capable of creating the moon—is that a contingent, or network, of human-like time travelers—aliens, if you will, at such an advanced point in the technological development of their civilization that we cannot conceive of it—conducted visitations to our planet billions of years ago.”
So taken aback, so entertained was I by this, that sitting there all by myself in the car, I laughed right out loud and exclaimed (whether to Jim or to Dr. Knight, I didn’t specify ): “Well, what do you know about that!” Suddenly it dawned upon me that the sun was rising and I’d better keep my eye out now for the airport exit.
A huge sign was coming into view overhead:
“NINGUNOS ARMAS PERMITIDOS SOBRE LA FRONTERA! NO FIREARMS ALLOWED OVER THE BORDER!”
I turned the car around in a panic. After explaining myself to the mustachioed, gun-toting policemen and heading back through the customs checkpoint with a screech of the tires, I glanced up at the sky and there she was, sailing high, serenely vanishing into the sun’s first light.
With apologies to Dr. Christopher Knight, from whose book, “Who Built the Moon,” passages about the moon have been quoted and modified.
This article originally appeared in Ami Magazine.