A new explanation for the Moon’s origin has it forming inside the Earth when our planet was a seething, spinning cloud of vaporized rock, called a synestia.
Lead author Simon Lock said, “The commonly accepted theory as to how the moon was formed is that a Mars-size body collided with the proto-Earth and spun material into orbit. That mass settled into a disk and later accreted to form the moon. The body that was left after the impact was the Earth. This has been the canonical model for about 20 years.”
Lock said that it’s a compelling story but probably wrong. Getting enough mass into orbit in the canonical scenario is actually very difficult, and there’s a very narrow range of collisions that might be able to do it.”
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“There’s only a couple-of-degree window of impact angles and a very narrow range of sizes … and even then some impacts still don’t work.”
Co-author Sarah Stewart, a professor of Earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Davis said, “This new work explains features of the moon that are hard to resolve with current ideas.”
“This is the first model that can match the pattern of the moon’s composition.”
The researchers noted that tests have shown that the isotopic “fingerprints” for both the Earth and moon are nearly identical, suggesting that both came from the same source. But in the canonical story, the moon formed from the remnants of just one of the two colliding bodies.
It’s not just similarities between the Earth and moon that raise questions about the conventional wisdom — their differences do as well.
Many volatile elements that are relatively common on Earth, such as potassium, sodium, and copper, are far less abundant on the moon.
Lock said, “There hasn’t been a good explanation for this.”
“People have proposed various hypotheses for how the moon could have wound up with fewer volatiles, but no one has been able to quantitatively match the moon’s composition.”
The scenario outlined by Lock and