You know, I really enjoy writing about the Moon. It’s so underrated; hanging there in the sky, for everyone to see, we really do take this volcanic, electric wonderland for granted. In the minds of many, it’s merely a monument to a historic achievement that happened nearly half a century ago, and nothing more.
Thankfully, one denizen of Twitter – comedian Matthew Highton – has had some lunacy on the mind as of late. Just yesterday, he sent out a rather eye-catching and thought-provoking message into the digital wilderness. “After much discussion, with no definitive answer,” he tweeted,“can someone PLEASE tell me what would happen if we sent a werewolf to the moon?”
As you’d expect, this has caused a frenzied discussion featuring a surprising (but satisfying) amount of actual science. Even Prof. Brian Cox chimed in, who nonchalantly pointed out that without a spacesuit, a lunar werewolf would simply die. I’ve been pondering on this dilemma over the last 24 hours or so, and as someone who once wielded his geological training to work out how to kill Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels, I simply couldn’t resist. So, here, for your delectation, is what would happen if you put a werewolf on the moon..with, you know, a spacesuit.
First off, in case you for some reason have no idea what a werewolf is supposed to be, it is a somewhat cursed (occasionally infected) human that, upon being hit by the light of the full moon, becomes extremely hairy and quite a bit more bitey. It’s not clear why this happens, but the transformation never seems to happen in the day, when a full moon – albeit a less visible one – still exists. It seems that only the atmosphere of night will do, because it’s all about the proper mise-en-scène.
So let’s accept that the full moon at night is vital here for any lycanthropy to take hold. I initially thought that perhaps it’s actually the Sun that’s triggering the transmogrification, as moonlight is simply reflected sunlight, which peaks during a full moon. If that were true though, werewolves would be everywhere on cloudless days, so it must be something to do with the Moon itself.
A key problem here is that the full moon is only something that exists on Earth; it’s a perspective thing, based on the position of the Sun, Moon and Earth, and the angle and reach of sunlight across the tripartite system. From a viewpoint in outer space, the full moon wouldn’t really be present in the same way, so perhaps potential werewolves in space would never be affected. Or, alternatively, if they can always see one entire hemisphere of the Moon all lit up, including the far side from a certain angle, then they will constantly be going from human to werewolf and back again.
All things considered, I suspect that werewolfery occurs because the full moon in some way permits material from the Moon to interact with Earth, and initiates the transformation process. This sounds implausible – except it isn’t.
As I recently explained in National Geographic, the Moon is electric when it’s full. That’s not just some mumbo jumbo: I mean this quite literally.
The Moon, while lacking a proper atmosphere, is covered in an ephemeral envelope of material up on high, named an exosphere. The lunar surface – a mixture of volcanic dust, cratered, older volcanic terrains and younger, frozen magmatic oceans – frequently ejects its dust matter into space. Despite lacking any wind or water, it achieves this through micrometeorite impacts, small outbursts of gas powered by trapped decaying radioactive material, and even electrostatic forces, much like those you get when you rub a balloon on a jumper and then get it to stick to your hair.
This material rises, and was even spotted by some Apollo astronauts who at the time couldn’t quite explain what they were seeing. As it reaches for the stars, sunlight interacts with it, strips off an electron or two, and turns it into a plasma. This means the Moon has a very thin electrified shell, one technically known as an ionosphere.
Earth has an ionosphere too, but thanks to its magnetic field and more prominent atmosphere, it’s a million times stronger than the Moon’s. Here’s the thing, though: the Moon’s electric shell is washed away by the Sun’s solar wind; it’s just too weak to withstand the onslaught of energetic particles. During a full moon, though, our pale companion is hiding within Earth’s magnetic bubble. This protects it from the Sun, and the ionosphere fizzles.
There’s also some tenuous evidence that the two celestial bodies might be exchanging some of this plasma, perhaps during a full moon when the Moon is protected. The effects of this are likely very small, but it’s possible – and that’s where werewolves come into it. Perhaps it’s not the full moon per se they are reacting to when they appear from their human husks, but instead, it’s this invisible plasma exchange that’s to blame. Thanks to space probes drifting through the lunar ionosphere, we know it’s composed of a few highly energetic versions of several chemical species: neon, helium, argon, oxygen, carbon, sodium, potassium and molecule hydrogen.
So, here’s my hypothesis: lycanthropy is possible because these individuals’ biological constitutions react to the chemical cocktail of plasma created by the Moon, which is most prominent during a full moon. Therefore, if you took a werewolf-capable human to the Moon, nothing would happen at the surface: you’d need to propel them up to the ionosphere on the dayside of the Moon for the magic to happen.
Feel free to test it out, but good luck getting a grant from NASA to fund it.