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I'm writing a heist story set in the near future. The goal of my main protagonists is to actually steal the Moon. The budget of their escapade is not a variable; they will get this done however possible.

I need to know:

How feasible would it be to actually pull off a heist such as this?

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    $\begingroup$ What about a way used in Despicable Me? $\endgroup$ – Ver Nick says Reinstate Monica Jan 4 at 8:59
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    $\begingroup$ While I realize that Despicable Me outlines a very obvious way of stealing the moon, I want to know how feasible that or something similar would actually be. $\endgroup$ – Gideon Ebeling Jan 4 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ How does stealing the moon profit those stealing it? Are they aiming to receive a ransom or to profit from the side effects of their heist? I would imagine that to genuinely steal the moon (i.e. remove it from earth orbit) would be many orders of magnitude more expensive than $1B+. $\endgroup$ – KillingTime Jan 4 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ Stealing it is probably not possible. Have you considered selling it? $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Jan 4 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ Please define what you mean by "stealing". Do you mean take legal ownership, but leave the Moon in its current orbit? Do you mean remove the Moon from the vicinity of the Earth? Do you mean make it such that the Moon isn't visible from the Earth? $\endgroup$ – Makyen Jan 5 at 18:01

12 Answers 12

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Plans for stealing the moon.

Shrink it

Well, this seems like the obvious solution. Just invent a shrink ray, zap the moon so it becomes the size of a basketball, then carry it home with you and mount it as a decoration in your home, a testament to your genius.

Problems: Inventing a shrink ray. No science exists that could possibly turn the moon into something of a manageable size. Even if you could somehow shrink the moon, you'd still have to figure out what to do with its mass - it wouldn't be any easier to move. Also, a moon-weight crushed into the size of a basketball would turn into a neutron star, which would probably burn your hands.

Plausibility rating: 0%

Move it

There are many ways of moving celestial objects, but most of them revolve around moving similarly-sized or bigger celestial objects, so that doesn't really help you. You're going to need a lot of energy. The sun has that kind of energy, so if you manage to have access to a Dyson Sphere, or set up an automatic process that can create a Dyson Sphere, you can use it to steal the moon.

Problems: Building a Dyson Sphere is difficult and will take a long time. Other countries will probably want in on it if they see you trying. Also, if you manage to single-handedly put together a Dyson Sphere and nobody stops you, you have essentially stolen the sun. Stealing the moon after that is just adding insult to injury.

Plausibility rating: 5%

Hide it

If your intent is to hold the moon for ransom, you don't actually need to steal it - you just need people to think it's been stolen. An army of solar-powered, self-replicating nanobots could, in time, convert the lunar surface into some kind of Vantablack like material, rendering the moon invisible. You can then pretend it's been stolen. Who would know the difference?

Problems: Almost everyone actually. A black moon would still obscure the stars behind it, and it would still have gravity, so the Earth's tides would remain. Also, self-replicating nanobots are still beyond modern technology, though they are not out of the realm of plausibility.

Plausibility rating: 15%

Defend it

Possession is nine-tenths of ownership, or something like that. If you can manage to set up a moon base, complete with a defensive array of missiles to shoot down anyone who tries to land on it, you have basically stolen the moon, even if it happens to be in the same place.

Problems: Fighting off all of Earth's armies at the same time is going to be difficult, especially in the long run. Nevertheless, this is one of the more plausible methods, since all you're fighting is other humans, not the laws of physics.

Plausibility rating: 25%

Make everyone agree it's yours

Maybe you're not interested in holding the moon for ransom - you just want everyone to agree that you own the moon. In that case, it's a simple matter of threatening everyone with enough force that they agree to give it to you. Maybe dust off one of those doomsday devices in your closet and see if you can pull it off. It's never worked before, but it's worth a shot, isn't it?

Plausibility rating: 50%

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jan 9 at 1:07
  • $\begingroup$ Defending the moon would be fairly difficult given that the supplies to do so would have to come from Earth. Unlimited budget aside, before you even tried, you'd need to have the backing (or outright control) of some reasonably tropic-situated country that's important enough to the global economy that sanctions would be difficult to impose (and that would provide sufficient wealth to fund a space program capable of moon shots). $\endgroup$ – KeithS Jan 17 at 18:52
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It's perfectly easy to steal the moon.
Just register a claim on it in every country and start issuing legal notices. It's been done before: Spanish woman claims ownership of the sun

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  • $\begingroup$ This works I guess... :( $\endgroup$ – Gideon Ebeling Jan 4 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ As with all laws, you need people who will enforce it.... $\endgroup$ – DrMcCleod Jan 5 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ @DrMcCleod With my new Indoctrination Raygun, enforcement takes care of itself! Mwuhahahaha! $\endgroup$ – SRM Jan 5 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ Except that I'm pretty sure that there is a treaty which declares the Moon to be open to all. (Or am I just remembering Antarctica?) $\endgroup$ – Hot Licks Jan 5 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ Does that Mrs. Duran owe me damages for unsolicited harmful radiation falling onto my property (and body) during the last 5 decades then? $\endgroup$ – Damon Jan 6 at 13:46
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You can't move the Moon, it just requires too much energy. But maybe we can deny everyone else the Moon... and ALL OF SPACE!!!

Energy Required To Move the Moon out of the Earth's Orbit

Let's say "stealing the Moon" means to move it out of Earth's orbit and refusing to put it back until you're paid a ransom. How hard is it to move the Moon out of Earth's orbit? We can work out the energy required with the kinetic energy equation: $energy = mass \times velocity^2$. I'll round all the numbers to make the math simpler, and because this number is going to be so large it doesn't matter.

The change in velocity required to move from a lunar orbit to Earth escape velocity is 700 km/s, let's call that 1000 m/s or 1e3 m/s. The mass of the Moon is 7.3e22 kg, let's call it an even 1e23 kg.

$$energy = 1e23 kg \times (1e3 m/s)^2$$ $$energy = 1e23 kg \times 1e6 m^2/s^2$$ $$energy = 1e29 kg m^2/s^2$$ $$energy = 1e29 Joules$$

1e29 Joules. How much energy is this? Comparing it to other amounts of energy... I's roughly the amount of energy the Earth receives from the Sun in 10,000 years. It's a million times the energy of all the Uranium on Earth. It's the energy of a trillion Tsar bombs, the largest nuclear bomb ever exploded.

Nobody on Earth has this much energy. If they had even a fraction, there's so many more interesting things to do with it. The simple blunt force of threatening to drop an asteroid on a country from orbit is far more feasible.

Kessler Syndrome

One of the many environmental crises facing the Earth is Kessler Syndrome. Low Earth Orbit is getting crowded with space debris and satellites. Satellites and space ships have to be as light as possible, so they're very fragile. Something as small as a stray bolt moving at orbital velocity will punch through a satellite faster than a bullet. This produces more debris, which can damage more satellites, which produces more debris, which damages more satellites... soon Low Earth Orbit is an impenetrable cloud of debris taking hundreds of years to de-orbit naturally.

Take Access To The Moon, And All Of SPACE!!!, Hostage

Launch numerous satellites into orbit. They can be fairly small and innocuous. They're rigged to disintegrate on command, and throw debris into orbit. Something as easily detectable as explosives is unnecessary, they can simply spin themselves to pieces.

Then reveal to the world that with a flick of your finger you can initiate Kessler Syndrome, destroy everything in LEO, and deny humanity access to space!!! Then issue your demands, whatever they are.

How do you get your satellites into orbit without being detected? Payloads have to go through rigorous safety checks before being allowed to fly on a rocket. Even the most dodgy launch provider doesn't want your payload to blow up their rocket.

Instead, you could amass wealth and found your own rocket company so you can fudge the inspection records. Then find a suitable cover story to avoid suspicion as you launch dozens and dozens of small satellites into orbit. Let's say a scheme to provide low latency satellite Internet...

Oh no.

enter image description here

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Not enough money, not enough means.

To 'steal' the moon you need to disturb its orbit.

To disturb its orbit you need a heavy enough mass, at a trajectory and timing precisely to go past the moon to veer it off its orbit. The only kind of mass to pull it off in that time frame is another moon, perhaps one of Jupiters. But then you have the problem of figuring out how to pull that mass from their orbit too.

There have been discussions of Gravity Tractors to affect an asteroids trajectory, but what you need is something several orders of magnitude larger. To accomplish this you need much more means (beyond what we have) or much more time (thousands of years, not decades).

There would be consequences to Earth as well though, not to mention perhaps affecting its orbit too and forever disrupting its tides, day night system, atmosphere, ecosystems and much more.

Also $1 billion doesn't go far these days, that's just half the cost of small mars rover.

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  • $\begingroup$ In terms of consequences for earth, it is extremely unlikely that its orbit would be affected. Back in my first college physics class, our professor actually discussed this question and according to his calculations there would be no noticeable affect on Earth's orbit. $\endgroup$ – Moshe Katz Jan 5 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ Tides would definitely get disrupted.IIRC, only about 1/3 of the tide strength comes from Sun gravity, and 2/3 come from the Moon. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jan 5 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ You could theoretically use a chain of gravity tractors, e.g. disturb the orbit of a small asteroid so that it affects a larger one in just the right way to affect a still larger one, eventually working up to directing a Jovian moon (or similar-sized body) towards the Moon. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 5 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ You need a large enough force, but that doesn't necessarily require a large mass—it could just be a smaller mass accelerated to a huge velocity. $\endgroup$ – Greg Martin Jan 5 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak as would the Earth's rotational speed and stability. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jan 6 at 2:00
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It is not feasible to steal the Moon within the next 40 years even with 1 billion dollars+ because we know of no practical means to do such a thing.

Removing the Moon from Earth would require astronomical amounts of force and the only way of applying that force would be via an astronomical body such as a large rogue planet or star passing near to the Earth Moon system. Such a situation might remove the Moon but might well also disturb Earth’s orbit as well and close encounters could be very destructive on the surface due to tidal effects. But such a scenario would hardly be classified as stealing the Moon.

The only option available is magic and go beyond the laws of physics.

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    $\begingroup$ One of the rare occasions where astronomical can be used literally $\endgroup$ – njzk2 Jan 5 at 2:35
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    $\begingroup$ @slarty username checks out $\endgroup$ – Figwig Jan 5 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Will Hain yes I'm waiting for a a question on fjords next $\endgroup$ – Slarty Jan 5 at 20:11
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Harnessing gravitational slingshots (and maybe using lasers to not only deflect, but redirect and control, asteroids) might be a possible solution. If you directed a large enough and fast-moving enough asteroid at the moon, its momentum might make up for its smaller size and knock the moon out of orbit. Given enough asteroids and enough control over them, you could (probably not, but maybe, if we're entertaining the physically unlikely) use them to essentially herd the moon to wherever you want it to be.

However, it would be extremely difficult to do, especially with such a relatively small budget. However, the budget might not be an issue if you have an economic genius on the team, and they figure out how to increase that billion dollars to . . . a lot more through buying and selling stocks.

What would the purpose of stealing the moon be, though? How would that work? Would you try and hold it ransom (since we need it to keep the climate on earth where we're used to it being) or would you seel the materials raw? Or is there someone who just wants the moon for no real reason, and is hiring your team as bounty hunters to steal it?

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect that slamming enough asteroids into the Moon to sling it off orbit would blast apart large chunks of the Moon or otherwise render it unrecognisable. $\endgroup$ – BBeast Jan 4 at 11:08
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    $\begingroup$ @BBeast you shouldn't slam them into the moon, but sling them parabolically around the moon. No blasting, and gives you twice as much momentum change too. $\endgroup$ – leftaroundabout Jan 7 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @leftaroundabout This is true. Somehow my first reading of this question made me think Rory was wanting to hit them into the Moon - probably because he wanted to use a very-fast-moving asteroid which would only be of benefit if you hit the Moon. $\endgroup$ – BBeast Jan 8 at 0:08
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  1. Drill holes in Callisto.
  2. Build giant rockets through those holes. If possible, use Callisto's water and pressure to help optimize exhaust.
  3. Build a giant laser, powered by Jupiter and/or its moons.
  4. Use these to propel Callisto toward the Earth. If fine-tuning this for the desired effect is impossible, throw in another Jovian moon, or just borrow Jupiter via lots and lots of Fusion Candles.
  5. If possible, plant giant solar sails in the Moon. I'm not sure what the light reflecting off these would do to the Earth, but even if it's not more than a light-show in the evenings, well, everyone who can see the Moon will see it.
  6. Use nudges to Callisto (or Jupiter or whatever other moon(s) you stole) to tug on Earth's Moon. You probably should turn off the laser at this point, but another set of mirrors to focus light on the Moon's sails (if you have them) would be helpful.
  7. Wait for several lifetimes.

I make it sound much simpler than it is. Moving Jupiter is probably the most reasonable option on the list, and that requires Fusion Candles. A sail capable of moving the Moon is almost certainly going to lack the structural integrity to not just fold like an umbrella in a strong wind. Enceladus is already spewing water out one end, and is smaller than Callisto, yet it remains in a seemingly stable orbit around Saturn. The amounts of energy required for such shenanigans demands Fusion, at a minimum, and just having Fusion isn't enough. Also, Callisto might just completely vaporize long before it can get close enough to affect the Moon.

But if you can somehow make all of those things work, you might have stolen the Moon.

Alternatively, just wait. The Moon is floating away at 3cm/year. Just figure out where it will be when it escapes, and wait to catch it with a Moon-sized catcher's mitt. That's not quite "near future," though.

As for consequences, well, if you had to use Jupiter to steal the Moon, you're going to have a hard time not letting Jupiter disrupt all the other planets in the process. At worst, Earth gets flung out of the Solar System, or smashed by some other disrupted object. At best, expect the climate to have serious issues. Tidal effects may result in casualties in the tens of millions. And if you managed to put sails on the Moon, well, they do need to reflect the light back at Earth to escape from the Earth, so hopefully it's not so bright as to heat things up even further. Maybe some giant mirrors at the LaGrange points to maximize the energy going into your Moon-sails?

All of which is to say: this is probably not doable in the next millennium, but if you want it to happen badly enough, and are willing to handwave the numerous issues involved in moving planets, it is not inconceivable. Infinite Fusion Rockets can move just about anything, but...

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    $\begingroup$ The question asked about the near future. Even if we had the technology, just building those things and getting them to Callisto would take decades. Even just landing a tiny little probe there, orders of magnitude smaller than required for this mission, would take at least a decade. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jan 5 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah. I think your answer can be summarized as, “No.” :-) $\endgroup$ – SRM Jan 5 at 23:44
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Hmm, everyone's thinking far too hard...

This is inspired by an event mentioned in the Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy.

Simply (well...) disassemble the moon and ship it off to somewhere else.

Of course you're going to need a fleet of cargo spacecraft, and some serious amount of diggers to break up the moon and load it onto those spacecraft, bucketload by bucketload, but eventually you're going to have trucked off the moon in its entirety.

Now, doing so while nobody is any the wiser and tries to stop you is another matter. People are going to notice the moon getting smaller and smaller, and a lot of space traffic near it that's irregular.

Eventually the reduced mass of the thing will also start affecting its orbit, making people even more suspicious.

But if you are trying to steal a moon belonging to a planet without a spacefaring civilisation and with no real means to observe the moon it's not unfeasible, especially if it's a small moon that doesn't cause serious tidal effects the lack of which might raise some eyebrows (but then again, the people on that planet may well not correlate tidal effects with a celestial body if they have no way to notice you trucking off their moon).

Feasible? Certainly. For a small enough moon and a large enough workforce with plenty of equipment.

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  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps, if has been theorised, the moon was created from the debris of Earth and another object, it's got some major fault lines inside it. Carefully placed bombs crack the Moon in two (or more pieces) and you cart them off to re-assemble outside your secret lair. $\endgroup$ – Ralph Bolton Jan 7 at 10:56
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Using the orbital mechanics knowledge I acquired from playing kerbal space program, I believe that it is possible to move the moon away using ordinary rocket engines, the problem becomes how to get enough/big enough engines and how to fuel them. I don't know the exact math but the amount of fuel would be astronomical and you wouldn't burn constantly. you would burn to elongate the orbit until you manage to fling it into solar orbit, this operation will take a long time as you would burn for a relatively short time on the closer side which makes the time between burns progressively longer. how can you get the fuel? maybe have fusion reactors and siphon a considerable amount of gas from one of our gas giants? what would be the consequences of removing the moon? well there will be no tide so the average water level would rise, I'm sure there would be other issues but I do not know more on this subject

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  • $\begingroup$ Astronomical is right. It's likely that there isn't enough combustible material on earth to noticeably affect the moon's orbit. I'm not sure "ordinary" applies to rocket engines big enough shove a moon though. $\endgroup$ – Ruadhan Jan 6 at 9:42
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A huge, solar-powered rail- or coil-gun which fires projectiles faster than lunar escape velocity would probably work. Of course this requires that it’s allowed to use the Moon itself for fuel/material. I’m too lazy to look up how much power and material you’d need and how long it would take. Probably a lot. The Moon’s mass is $7.34767309 × 10^{22}$ kilograms, so even a 1m/s velocity change would require $E_k=m × v^2/2=3.7*10^{22}J=10 277 778 TWh$ of energy. That’s 63 times the current annual human energy consumption (162 494 TWh).

By the way, “simply chucking it into the sun” is the hardest orbital change.

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How about you play a snooker/pool trick shot instead of doing anything directly?

That is, you alter the orbit of something else to collide with the moon, thus altering its orbit (presumably making it wider, so the moon ultimately moves away from and escapes Earths gravity).

Finding an object large enough is possible challenging. The asteroid belt has lots of small objects which are relatively easy to move, but unless you move lots of them you won't make much of a dent in the Moon's orbit. Instead, you could use an asteroid to alter the orbit of a small moon of another planet to then collide with the Moon to alter its orbit to one of your choosing.

The more collisions you have in your trick shot, the greater the force on the Moon can be, but also the longer it will take for your shot to actually hit the Moon. You could use this to your advantage though - you start the trick shot off, and ransom the Moon. The closer to "m-day" you get, the higher the ransom (and the greater the work to call off the trick shot, by the way).

(Credit: Red Dwarf. Lister has to get blind drunk so he can play pool to his best ability, and initiates a planet bashing trick shot to plug a "white hole": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Hole_(Red_Dwarf))

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Originally posted as a comment to IndigoFenix's answer, but it was moved from this page.

@IndigoFenix's "Hide The Moon" option might be improved with this:

If the self-replicating nanobots were built with cameras & projection screens. During construction, each nanobot would display what its own camera showed behind it, rendering them invisible to @JanHudec's "normal people" (if the tech is good enough), since they could still see the projection of the moon. If the nanobots are small enough and work slowly enough, they might even be able to fool the astronomers and people of power that they work for. (The nanobots could construct the new nanobots behind the moon and slowly put themselves into place with the projections screens already operating.)

When enough robots are built to cover the moon front & back, then the cameras behind the moon could capture the starfield for the robots in front of the moon to project to Earth. (This addresses @DevSolar's concern that the process of hiding the moon would give things away.)

Voilà! The instantaneous disappearance of the moon properly coordinated with a globally broadcast speech, could fool the populace long enough to be incited to panic...

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