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The Sun is midway through its stable hydrogen burning phase known as the main sequence. But when the Sun enters the red giant phase in around 5 billion years things are going to get a lot rougher in the Earth-Moon system.

During the red giant phase the Sun will swell until its distended atmosphere reaches out to envelop the Earth and Moon, which will both begin to be affected by gas drag-the space through which they orbit will contain more molecules.

The Moon is now moving away from Earth and by then will be in an orbit that's about 40 percent larger than today. It will be the first to warp under the Sun's influence.

'The Moon's actual path is a wiggly line around the Sun, with it moving faster when it is slightly farther out (at full Moon) and more slowly when it is slightly closer (at new Moon),' said Lee Anne Willson of Iowa State University. 'So the gas drag is more effective at the farther part of the orbit and this will put the Moon into an orbit where the new Moon is closer to Earth than the full Moon.'

Willson's idea about the Moon's demise, explained recently to SPACE.com, is an unpublished byproduct of her research into Earth's fate in the face of an expanding Sun.


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