For decades, the world’s top astrophysicists have been arguing over the origin of Earth’s moon. But a recent theory is gaining traction as the most plausible.
Since the 1980s, most scientists have believed that the moon formed billions of years ago after a large planet, roughly the size of Mars, crashed into Earth. The collision would have caused gas, metals, and magma to shoot into the cosmos that came together over the course of decades or centuries.
However, a new study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters suggests an entirely different idea—the moon formed in only a matter of hours. The theory came from hundreds of extremely high-resolution computer simulations that show a large chunk of Earth being shot into a wide orbit and quickly turning into our lunar companion.
NASA put together a quick rendering of that concept and recently published it on YouTube. In it, a planet called Theia slams into our mother planet and throws the moon-forming debris into the cosmos. The debris then breaks into two globs that begin exchanging material through a thin connection. Eventually, Earth’s gravity shoots the smallest body further into space and the connection with the larger object breaks.
NASA Team Used Technology with up to 1,000 Times Higher Resolution to Answer Lingering Questions About Earth’s Moon Formation
NASA researchers have been messing with this concept for years, but they were unable to recreate the event on lower-resolution computers. So they asked Durham University’s Institute of Computational Cosmology in England for help. The organization is home to technology that offers up to 1,000 times higher resolution. Because of that, a team was able to test the theory with different crash angles, speeds, planet spins, and sizes.
The newest model uses hundreds of millions of planet bits. And scientists are currently attempting to fully understand how those bits interact through pressure, gravity, and heat.
“If you build that ball out of little Lego pieces and you only have 50 of them, it might just split perfectly in an unrealistic way. But if you have thousands or millions of them, you might start to find the way that it actually fragments in a more realistic way. And it’s that same kind of idea,” Jacob Kegerreis, lead author on the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at NASA Ames Research Center in California told Mashable.
The theory is making waves thanks to its ability to answer one long-withstanding question—why is the crust of the moon so similar to Earth’s crust? It may also explain why the moon has a thin outer layer and is tilted.
If scientists can finally get to the bottom of the moon’s origin, it will likely lead to more answers about Earth’s beginnings and evolution.