- New research suggests that a giant space rock impact may have rapidly placed the moon into orbit around Earth rather than creating a disk of debris from which the moon gradually formed over time.
- A highly detailed computer simulation created by Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology showcased this alternative origin story for Earth’s lunar companion.
The rapid formation theory suggests a different internal composition for the moon that could explain some of the curious Earth-like characteristics seen in lunar samples.
The moon is thought to have formed nearly 4.5 billion years ago when Earth was hit by an object from space roughly the size of Mars that scientists have called Theia. A consequence of this would have been that the moon was primarily created by the material provided by Theia as opposed to material from Earth. This idea was challenged when it was discovered that lunar rocks seem to have a composition that is almost same as the mantle of Earth.
The high-resolution results obtained with the impressive computing power of the DiRAC Memory Intensive service called COSMA located at Durham University in England showed an outer layer of the moon rich in material originating from the Earth.
Research co-author and University of Durham physicist Vincent Eke said that this formation route could help explain the similarity in isotopic composition between the lunar rocks returned by the Apollo astronauts and Earth’s mantle.
It was initially thought that a rapidly-forming huge body close to Earth would be ripped apart by tidal forces emerging from our planet’s gravitational influence, thus favoring a slow creation process for the moon.
These new simulations suggest such a body could not only survive tidal forces but could be pushed to a higher orbit, delivering it from the threat of future destruction by such forces. The team’s research was published on 4th October in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
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