New supercomputer simulations show how the Moon formed when Earth collided with a Mars-sized planet called Theia about 4.5 billion years ago.
British scientists have produced several simulation scenario animations, each showing a different amount of “wandering planet” rotation that Theia might have had as she approached Earth.
Each simulation represents various explosive models of rocky detritus emanating from the point of impact, which may have come together to form the Moon.
The simulations are based on what astronomers commonly refer to as the “Big Splash” theory or the “giant impact hypothesis”.
According to the theory, Theia, which was approximately 3,792 miles in diameter, crashed into Earth with a diameter of 7,917 miles, created a ring of debris around our home planet that eventually came together to form the Moon. .
The event – about 4.45 billion years ago and 150 million years ago after the formation of the solar system – is the most common idea for how relatively large the Moon is compared to other rocky bodies.
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Still images of a cross section of a 3D simulation run by researchers studying how a collision between the early Earth and a Mars-sized object could have led to the formation of the Moon
“Collision animation” shows the impact with a non-rotating Theia. It’s the same things ‘Impactor without spin’ but from another point of view.
“ Adding different amounts of rotation to Theia in the simulations, or having no rotation at all, gives you a whole range of different results for what could have happened when the early Earth was hit by an object. massive all those billions of years ago. Said study author Sergio Ruiz-Bonilla from Durham University.
“ It’s exciting that some of our simulations produced this orbiting group of material that is relatively not much smaller than the Moon, with an additional disc of material around the Earth after impact that would help the block to grow in mass over time.
“I wouldn’t call it the Moon, but it’s definitely a very interesting place to keep looking.
In partnership with the University of Glasgow, scientists in Durham ran their supercomputer simulations on the high performance computing facility DiRAC.
DiRAC’s computing resources – a vast collection of processors, cables, and other hardware – are spread across four university locations, including Durham.
Researchers tracked rock material that allegedly exploded from the source of the collision and eventually formed to create the Moon.
The simulated collision with early Earth produced different results depending on the size and direction of Theia’s initial rotation, from no rotation at all to “ spinning like a billiard ball ”, to the both clockwise and counterclockwise.
At one extreme, with maximum clockwise rotation, the collision merged the two objects together.
With maximum anti-clockwise rotation, there was a grazing “ hit-and-run ” impact.
Graphic from research paper. The yellow planet is Theia and the black arrows represent their different speeds of rotation. The two left (l = -1 / 2 and l = -1 / 4) resulted in mergers. The middle box (showing simulations involving no rotation) and the one to the right next to it resulted in orbiting clusters or lunar candidates. The simulation shown in the far right box resulted in a “ direct impact ”
And the simulation where no rotation was added to Theia produced a self-gravitating mass of material with a mass of about 80% of the Moon.
When a small amount of rotation was added to the simulations, another Moon-like object was created.
The resulting tuft, which settled in an orbit around Earth after the impact, is said to have developed by sweeping away the disc of debris surrounding our planet.
The simulated tuft also had a small iron core, similar to that of the Moon, with an outer layer of material made up of the early Earth and Theia.
This artist’s concept shows a celestial body the size of our moon slamming into a planetary body in a scenario that could be similar to that of Theia colliding with Earth.
“We get a number of different results depending on whether or not we introduce the spin to Theia before it crashes into early Earth,” said study author Dr Vincent Eke of the ‘University of Durham.
“ It is especially fascinating that when no or very little rotation is added to Theia, the impact with the early Earth leaves a trail of debris behind, which in some cases includes a body large enough to deserve to be to be called proto-moon.
“ There may be a number of possible collisions that have not yet been investigated that could bring us even closer to how the Moon formed in the first place. ”
While the simulations aren’t definitive proof of where the Moon came from, experts add, they represent a promising step in understanding how our closest neighbor might have formed.
Research in March of this year claimed to prove the Big Splash theory, based on traces of Theia in lunar rocks.
Researchers at the University of New Mexico examined the isotopes of oxygen in moon rocks brought to Earth by Apollo astronauts.
They found differences in oxygen isotopes – an indicator of the material’s origin – between lunar rocks and terrestrial rocks, which may have come from Theia’s remains after impact.
However, another study in May reported the discovery of carbon ions on the surface of the Moon.
NASA’s Galileo spacecraft took this image of the Moon on December 7, 1992 while en route to explore the Jupiter system in 1995-97
The carbon should have been completely vaporized by the intense temperatures generated by the colossal impact event.
The results of this new study were published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The research team now plans to run further simulations modifying the mass, velocity, and rotational speed of the target and impactor to see what effect this has on the formation of a potential Moon.
SCIENTISTS DO NOT AGREE ON THE FORMATION OF THE MOON, BUT MANY BELIEVE IT WAS THE RESULT OF AN IMPACT BETWEEN EARTH AND ANOTHER PLANET
Many researchers believe the moon formed after Earth was hit by a planet the size of Mars billions of years ago.
This is called the giant impact hypothesis.
The theory suggests that the moon is made up of debris left behind from a collision between our planet and a body about 4.5 billion years ago.
The colliding body is sometimes referred to as Theia, named after the mythical Greek Titan who was the mother of Selene, the moon goddess.
Many researchers believe the moon formed after Earth was hit by a planet the size of Mars billions of years ago. This is called the giant impact hypothesis
But a mystery persisted, revealed by the rocks Apollo astronauts brought back from the moon: Why are the moon and Earth so similar in composition?
Several different theories have emerged over the years to explain the similar fingerprints of the Earth and the Moon.
Perhaps the impact created a huge cloud of debris that mixed completely with the Earth, then later condensed to form the moon.
Or Theia could, by coincidence, have been chemically similar to young Earth.
A third possibility is that the moon formed from terrestrial material, rather than from Theia, although this would have been a very unusual type of impact.