Lunar Rocks Have Earth's Noble Gases Trapped Inside. More Evidence That the Moon Came From the Earth

Piecing together the history of the Solar System from the traces left behind isn’t easy. Bit by bit, however, we’re working it out. This month, new research examining the composition of lunar meteorites offers compelling evidence that the Moon and the Earth were formed from the same material, perhaps in the aftermath of a cataclysmic collision some 4.5 billion years ago.

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The Early Solar System was Messier and More Violent Than Previously Believed

This artwork shows a rocky planet being bombarded by comets. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Our conventional models of planet formation may have to be updated, according to a pair of new papers.

Accretion is the keyword in current planet formation theory. The idea is that the planets formed out of the solar nebula, the material left over after the Sun formed. They did this through accretion, where small particles accumulate into more massive objects. These massive boulder-sized objects, called planetesimals, continued to merge together into larger entities, sometimes through collisions. Eventually, through repeated mergers and collisions, the inner Solar System was populated by four rocky planets.

But the new research suggests that the collisions played out much differently than thought and that objects collided with each other several times, in a series of hit and runs, before merging. This research fills some stubborn holes in our current understanding.

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The Moon Might Have Formed a Little Later than Originally Believed

Credit: DLR

According to the Giant Impact Hypothesis, the Moon formed when a Mars-sized object (named Theia) collided with Earth billion years ago, at a time when the Earth was still a ball of magma. This event not only led to the Earth-Moon system we recognize today, it is also beleived to have led to the differentiation of the Earth’s core region into an molten Outer Core and a solid Inner Core.

However, there has been an ongoing debate as to the timing of this impact and how long the subsequent formation of the Moon took place. According to a new study by a team of German researchers, the Moon formed from a magma ocean that took up to 200 million years to solidify. This means that the Moon finished forming about 4.425 billion years ago, or 100 million years later than previously thought.

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The Moon Might Be More Metal-Rich Than We Thought

The Moon contains more metal than previously thought, according to a new study. Is it time to re-think the giant impact hypothesis? Image Credit: NASA / GSFC / Arizona State University

A new study shows that the Moon is more metal-rich than previously thought. That has some far-reaching implications for our understanding of the Moon’s formation. If their results are solid, it means that we may need to re-think the giant impact hypothesis for the formation of the Moon.

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Do We Now Understand Why the Moon’s Near and Far Sides Look So Dramatically Different?

The Full Moon. Our view of the Moon is dominated by the large volcanic mares, and the especially dramatic Tycho Crater. Image Credit: By Gregory H. Revera - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11901243

The Moon is easily the most well-studied object in the Solar System, (other than Earth, of course.) But it still holds some puzzles for scientists. Why, for instance, is one side of the Moon so different from the other?

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New Study Shows the Earth and Moon are not so Similar After All

Artist's conception of two celestial bodies smacking into each other. Such a collision is believed to have formed Earth's moon. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

According to the most widely-accepted theory, the Moon formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago when a Mars-sized object named Theia collided with Earth (aka. the Giant Impact Hypothesis). This impact threw up considerable amounts of debris which gradually coalesced to form Earth’s only natural satellite. One of the most compelling proofs for this theory is the fact that the Earth and the Moon are remarkably similar in terms of composition.

However, previous studies involving computer simulations have shown that if the Moon were created by a giant impact, it should have retained more material from the impactor itself. But according to a new study conducted by a team from the University of New Mexico, it is possible that the Earth and the Moon are not as similar as previously thought.

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The Moon is Older Than Scientists Thought

It is believed that 4.4 billion years ago, a celestial body (Theia) slammed into Earth and produced the Moon. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The most comprehensive and widely-held theory of how the Moon formed is called the ‘giant impact hypothesis.’ That hypothesis shows that about 150 million years after the Solar System formed, a roughly Mars-sized planet named Theia collided with Earth. Though the timeline is hotly-debated in the scientific community, we know that this collision melted Theia and some of Earth, and that molten rock orbited around Earth until it coalesced into the Moon.

But now a new study, though not contradicting the giant impact hypothesis, is suggesting a different timeline, and an older Moon.

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The Collision that Created the Moon Might Have Also Brought Water to the Early Earth

It is believed that 4.4 billion years ago, a celestial body (Theia) slammed into Earth and produced the Moon. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists at the University of Munster have discovered that Earth got its water from a collision with Theia. Theia was the ancient body that collided with Earth and formed the Moon. Their discovery shows that Earth’s water is much more ancient than previously thought.

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When the Impact that Created the Moon Happened, the early Earth was still a ball of magma

The chemicals that made life possible on Earth may have come from another planet that collided with Earth, forming the Moon. Image Credit: Rice University
The chemicals that made life possible on Earth may have come from another planet that collided with Earth, forming the Moon. Image Credit: Rice University

Since the late 19th century, scientists have struggled to explain the origin of the Moon. While scientists have long-theorized that it and the Earth have a common origin, the questions of how and when has proven to be elusive. For instance, the general consensus today is that an impact with a Mars-sized object (Theia) led to the formation of the Earth-Moon System shortly after the formation of the planets (aka. the Giant Impact Hypothesis).

However, simulations of this impact have shown that the Moon would have formed out of material primarily from the impacting object. This is not borne out by the evidence, though, which shows that the Moon is composed of the same material Earth is. Luckily, a new study by a team of scientists from Japan and the US has offered an explanation for the discrepancy: the collision took place when Earth was still composed of hot magma.

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Without the Impact that Formed the Moon, We Might Not Have Life on Earth

The chemicals that made life possible on Earth may have come from another planet that collided with Earth, forming the Moon. Image Credit: Rice University
The chemicals that made life possible on Earth may have come from another planet that collided with Earth, forming the Moon. Image Credit: Rice University

The Earth wasn’t formed containing the necessary chemicals for life to begin. One well-supported theory, called the “late veneer theory”, suggests that the volatile chemicals needed for life arrived long after the Earth formed, brought here by meteorites. But a new study challenges the late veneer theory.

Evidence shows that the Moon was created when a Mars-sized planet named Theia collided with the Earth. The impact created a debris ring out of which the Moon formed. Now, this new study says that same impact may have delivered the necessary chemicals for life to the young Earth.


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