New study: Moon formed in just a few hours

(ORDO NEWS) — We’re still not entirely sure how the Moon came into being billions of years ago, a mystery that scientists have been searching for an answer for decades.

But with the help of modern simulations and the power of supercomputers, we are clearly closer to the answer.

One of the most popular hypotheses is that the Moon formed after a Mars-sized object called Theia collided with a proto-Earth (a very young Earth).

This event, according to the hypothesis, occurred about 4.5 billion years ago.

It only took a few months or years for the debris created by the collision to coalesce to form the Moon as we know it today. Although the details of this grand event remain a mystery.

One of the key arguments in favor of the hypothesis is the fact that moon rocks brought to Earth as part of NASA‘s Apollo program have a striking amount in common with the earth’s rock.

This was unequivocally confirmed by China‘s Chang’e-5 mission, which delivered lunar samples to Earth in December 2020.

Modern modeling

A stunning simulation by researchers at Durham University in the UK and NASA reveals a curious detail of this hypothesis: the Moon could have formed in a much shorter period of time hours rather than months or years after the young Earth and Theia collided.

The team of scientists used state-of-the-art supercomputers to simulate hundreds of different collision scenarios.

The resulting video is a stunning animation of two colliding objects that “freeze in the dance” and “spewing lava”:

The authors of the study concluded that the Moon could have formed in just a few hours due to the fact that as a result of the collision there was significantly less material that was in a molten state than previously thought.

In other words, the Moon could be made up of much more Earth material, especially when it comes to its outer layers, which makes sense given what we know about the similarities described above.

The simulations also suggest that the Moon may have a partially molten core, which could explain its unusually thin crust and the tilt of its orbit.

New study Moon formed in just a few hours 2
The lunar surface photographed by the Chinese Yutu-2 rover

“We took on this project without knowing exactly what the results of the simulations would be,” said Jacob Kegerrais, a cosmologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and lead author of the study.

“Past models can give misleading results, but our model demonstrates the incremental appearance of a tantalizing moon-like satellite in [proto-Earth] orbit.”

The new model is an exciting new page in our quest to understand how Earth’s nearest neighbor came to be.

“The more we learn about how the moon came to be, the more we learn about the evolution of our own planet,” concluded Dr. Vincent Ecke from the University of Durham and co-author of the study.


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