Scientists claim that they found how the Moon really formed and why it is so chemically similar to our planet. According to the new findings, a proto-planet dubbed Theia crashed into primordial Earth and provided enough material to form the Moon.
Researchers believe that Theia was shattered during the impact creating a dense cloud of debris that later spontaneously formed the Moon. The new discovery solves several decade-long problems about the Earth and its natural satellite’s compositions that are so similar that the two bodies may be called twins
The research team used several computer models, which revealed that the Moon was the result of the debris Theia brought nearby baby Earth. But Theia had an isotopic makeup different from the Earth’s. So, this issue continued to puzzle physicists for more than three decades.
Alessandra Mastrobuono-Battist, one of the scientists involved in the discovery and researcher at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, explained that a real ‘isotope crisis’ emerged as not even the best computer models could provide a valid explanation and confirm the scientists’ theory on moon formation.
During the latest research, Ms. Mastrobuono-Battisti and her team performed dozens of computer simulation using the latest computer technology and updated data on up to 90 baby planets and more than 1,000 planetesimals. They managed to simulate later-stage planet formation between the orbits of Venus and Mercury and within 50 million miles off Jupiter’s orbit.
According to the simulations, collisions between baby planets, or planetary embryos, and planetesimals led to the formation of 3-4 rocky planets about 100 million to 200 millions years ago. But when a simulation was conducted on moon formation, the team found that the Earth and Theia had identical chemical composition.
Mastrobuono-Battisti said that her team was not surprised with the discovery since impactors are more likely to have a similar chemical structure with the planet they impact than separate planets located in the same solar system.
She also said that their findings are more reliable than the results of previous simulation because a larger set of data and a wide range of models were used. Ms. Mastrobuono-Battisti warned that it was very counterproductive to base your findings solely on a limited set of data.
The findings were published this week in the journal Nature. But other papers published in Nature currently debate the faint variations in a tungsten isotope found on both the Moon and Earth.
Richard Walker, a researcher from the University of Maryland, believes that two different space bodies, with very different sizes, cannot develop the same isotopic composition in tungsten. However, he also said that that was not impossible.
“I think all three papers work to explain the formation of the moon within the framework of a giant impact. I don’t think we have a better alternative at this time,”
Prof. Walker also said.
In order to finally solve the mystery, scientists will have to sacrifice one of the precious moon samples brought to Earth by Apollo missions to measure more accurately the isotopic content of lunar tungsten. But the committee that would analyze such a proposal will have to be convinced that the endeavor does merit the sacrifice.
Image Source: cosmos.physast.uga.edu