In the original Planet of the Apes (1968), Charlton Heston discovers at the end of the movie

that he is on planet Earth after all.

But he surely could know it sooner if the moon were present in the sky. When he abandons the sinking spaceship at the beginning we can see the "Earth Time Display" showing the year 3978, not millions of years in the future.

So, what happened to the moon? Why wasn't it visible?

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    I will be interested to hear what others think on this but I could see believing that one is on an alien planet despite the presence of a similar moon, if there were talking apes with advanced culture, and one had just gotten off of a spaceship.
    – DQdlM
    May 20, 2012 at 2:14
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    Great question!
    – Tango
    May 20, 2012 at 5:02
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    The moon blasted out of orbit on September 13, 1999. Jun 7, 2016 at 8:12
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    Now that you got me thinking on this, I can't help but wonder about the constellations. There seems to be no information how far the original mission and to what star, but a trio of astronauts would recognize Earth's night sky. "See that star in Orion's Belt? Yeah, we shouldn't see that. We're supposed to be there." I think only lousy luck with cloud cover whenever our hero was under a night sky can explain these celestial mysteries.
    – Blaze
    Mar 8, 2019 at 21:01

5 Answers 5


The movie does not make it clear what became of the planet's moon. And the omission is intentional.

Despite the fact the moon was not visible in the sky after Heston's landing, it would not necessarily imply anything to him other than he could not see the moon at that time. Considering how chaotic the landing was, they might not have been aware of the moon one way or the other.

One possibility listed at the time of the movie's release was that it was blown up and formed a ring of smaller rocks and dust around the planet. That would account for one of the astronauts saying "There's always a 'strange cloud cover at night.'"

Blowing up the moon is no mean feat and would have likely changed the face of the Earth in any number of less-than-pleasant ways. I believe this was one of the ideas for the story to explain the state of the world (extreme desertification and the like) but was never covered in the dialog.

For at least three days a month the moon is not visible at all. Depending on the weather, it could have been at least another week before the moon became visible. Despite the retreat of the moon from the Earth, (3.8 cm per year) it would not have been significantly different-appearing in the sky.

As you can see, the Moon has an extremely specific look, almost like a fingerprint, making it impossible to mistake for another celestial body

Given they were astronauts and likely highly familiar with the appearance of Earth's moon, Heston would have known exactly where he was, even if there had been additional meteor strikes during the time he was traveling in time. Such strikes would not have made significant changes in the appearance of the moon to one who was aware of its general features.

The shock value of the movie is the big reveal at the end of the Statue of Liberty, it was better if the moon didn't give away where he was. So it was easiest to remove the moon from the story and leave everyone guessing.

The iconic big reveal image of Statue of Liberty

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    I don't remember if there were references to tides in the movie. I don't think there was a reference to the Moon in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and either one would tell is if the Moon were there. One interesting point, if it were gone, would be the reaction of the chimps when they went to Earth's past and first saw the Moon.
    – Tango
    May 20, 2012 at 5:01
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    There would still be tides if the moon was gone. Solar tides would still take place. They would be less pronounced than our combined solar/lunar tidal action. May 20, 2012 at 5:04
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    Let's cool it with the editing of the pictures in this answer. Discuss in the relevant meta question instead, for now.
    – user1027
    May 21, 2012 at 15:37

Early in the film script, one of the astronauts (when commenting on the planet) says :

DODGE : "...Cloud cover every night and that strange luminosity, and yet no moon."

The implication is that the cloud cover is consistent throughout the film.


So, what happened to the moon? Why wasn't it visible?

Nothing happened to the Moon. The Moon is often not visible, even today. In the movie, the Moon was permanently occluded by cloud-cover (perhaps a long-term result of the nuclear war?). This was responsible for the "strange luminescence" mentioned on screen.


Cornelius mentions toward the end that Taylor should be careful traveling through the canyon in the forbidden zone at high tide. This, and the obvious English language 320 light years away are not really important to the otherwise genius black comedy storyline.

Cornelius: I don't know. You can't ride along the shore at high tide... and we had no boats on our last expedition.


  • Found the quote and added the it with a reference May 21, 2014 at 22:43

I believe they explained the fact that there was no moon in one of the follow up movies. They said something about an explosion on the moon had destroyed it. Like there was a nuclear reactor on a moon base that had overloaded and caused a chain reaction which lead to the moon breaking apart.

Another thing that would have clued any astronaut into the fact that they were on Earth is the fact that the stellar constellations would have been familiar. Going 320 light years from Earth would significantly change the arrangements of the stars. Of course moving into the future will change them as well but 2000 years is not long enough to have a drastic change on the appearance of the stars as seen from Earth.

  • >>I believe they explained the fact that there was no moon in one of the follow up movies.<< Nope - you're thinking of the awful remake of "The Time Machine. "There were no references to any destruction of the Moon in the original movie series. >>but 2000 years is not long enough to have a drastic change ... of the stars<< No, it is long enough. Some stars would still have approx. same position - but the shift in position of most stars would confuse matters. In any event, the "strange luminosity" explicitly mentioned means that neither Moon could be (clearly) seen, nor stars.
    – Alex
    Mar 8, 2019 at 18:14

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