Moon’s birth unlocked by supercomputer simulations

Collision with a non-spinning version of Theia, resulted in a satellite with around 80% of the mass of the Moon

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Researchers at Durham University developed supercomputer simulations that shows how ancient collision may have led to the formation of the Moon.

According to most astronomers, Earth’s collision with a Mars-sized planet called Theia, around 4.5 billion years ago, formed the Moon. The velocity of Theia, its angle of impact and rotational rate has affected the collision.

Astronomers tested a wide range of possible conditions, ranging from no spin to a quick rotation.

Collision with a non-spinning version of Theia, resulted in a satellite with around 80% of the mass of the Moon. Adding just a small amount of spin resulted in a second Moon on orbit around Earth.

“Among the resulting debris disc in some impacts, we find a self-gravitating clump of material. It is roughly the mass of the Moon, contains ∼1 percent iron like the Moon,” researchers explained in an article in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The researchers postulate that as the proto-Moon settled on the orbit around the Earth, it grew by collecting debris from the surrounding space. This body was seen developing a small iron core, surrounded by material from both Theia and the early Earth, similar to what we see on the Moon.

They suggest that the Moon was much closer to the Earth than it is today but gravitational forces between the Earth and the Moon resulted in the Moon moving further away.

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