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The Cataclysmic Collision That Formed The Moon

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A team at UCLA has found new evidence that clarifies the origin of the moon.

By comparing rocks from Earth and those retrieved from the Moon the team was able to determine that moon was formed by a massive collision between Earth and a planetary embryo named Theia (Theia is roughly the size of Mars). The collision is believed to have happened 100 million years after the Earth was formed.

Seven specific samples found on the moon from the Apollo 12, 15, and 17 missions had similar chemical compositions to rocks collected from our Earth’s mantle in both Hawaii and Arizona. They comparison similarity in these rocks is due to the composition of the oxygen within them. Because oxygen is a highly reactive element, it can combine easily with other elements and is the single most common element in the Earth’s crust. Isotopes within the oxygen leave a finger print of sorts within rocks, and it was by matching these prints that researchers were able to conclude the link. And according to the lead author of the study, Edward Young, this can’t be a pure coincidence:

We don’t see any difference between the Earth’s and the Moon’s oxygen isotopes; they’re indistinguishable.

It is theorized that Theia got into the Earth’s orbit around the Sun and was swallowed up by Earth’s gravity in a cataclysmic collision. This caused the destruction of Theia, or the redistribution of Theia’s matter into parts of the Earth and Moon. To find out exactly how the collision happened, watch this video below:

If the phenomena had not taken place it is possible that our stellar environment as we know it would like quite different. We could have had another planet in the inner regions, and no moon whatsoever. This could have had dramatic effects on the evolution of life as we know it.

The theory is nothing new. Known as the Theia Impact theory of the Big Splash, it has been around since 2012. Yet in 2014 research has reported that the Earth and Moon had different oxygen isotope ratios, which threw the Big Splash into doubt. Th newest results from the UCLA team seem to clear up any inconsistencies, and leave the Theia Impact as the most plausible Moon/Earth formation theory.

Image: Joe Tucciarone

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