In Our Moon (Random House, Jan.), Boyle explores the influence of Earth’s biggest satellite on humanity.
What drew you to astronomy?
I’ve loved space since I was a kid, when I would look up at the moon and stars and read about the Apollo landings. Astronomy provokes the purest feelings of exaltation for me. I’m still amazed that Earth is just one planet, around just one star, which exists among countless other stars in countless galaxies—and yet we seem to be unique. Studying astronomy and physics, I simultaneously realize how insignificant I am and how puny my problems are, but also how magical and how rare it is to be here.
What is the biggest unanswered question about the moon?
I want to know how rare a moon like ours really is. It’s the only one of its kind in our solar system. Are large, single satellites also rare in the broader galaxy? I think this could have huge implications for the apparent scarcity of life as we know it. I also would like to know more about why the near and far sides of the moon are so chemically different.
What are your hopes for the future of the moon?
I hope humanity can respect the moon as a partner world to Earth and that we treat it similarly to how we treat Antarctica. The moon and Antarctica are difficult to reach, beset by austere conditions, and no one should live there permanently, but they are possible to visit for short periods if you are well equipped and prepared. I think that’s a good place to start. I hope that as humans visit the moon again, we try to learn from the legacy of exploration on this planet. Let’s import our curiosity and courage, but I hope we can find a way to do so that transcends our history of oppressive exploitation, both of natural resources and fellow humans.
Independent of your hopes, what do you predict is the most likely course of events?
I think it’s likely that the moon will host permanent science outposts for a handful of countries, and maybe even astronomical observatories. I would be sad if it just turned into a mine, or worse, a place to play out geopolitical struggles. The darkest future, in which the moon is a battlefield or hosts some kind of forward operating base, isn’t something I enjoy thinking about but I think it’s certainly possible. More positively, the moon could become a way station for exploration elsewhere in the solar system. NASA officials consider the moon as a path to Mars, and privately funded space explorers do, too. I think it will end up being a combination of research base and, in the longer term, a type of port.