The Moon's steady gravitational influence keeps the Earth spinning at the right speed and angle to provide the sort of stability necessary for the long and successful development of life. This won't go on forever. The Moon is slipping from our grasp at a rate of about 1.5 inches a year. In another two billion years it will have receded so far that it won't keep us steady and we will have to come up with some other solution, but in the meantime you should think of it as much more than just a pleasant feature in the night sky.
For a long time, astronomers assumed that the Moon and Earth either formed together or that the Earth captured the Moon as it drifted by. We now believe, as you will recall from an earlier chapter, that about 4.5 billion years ago a Mars-sized object slammed into Earth, blowing out enough material to create the Moon from the debris. This was obviously a very good thing for us—but especially so as it happened such a long time ago. If it had happened in 1896 or last Wednesday clearly we wouldn't be nearly so pleased about it. Which brings us to our fourth and in many ways most crucial consideration: