A giant impact could have formed the Moon faster, scientists reveal in new simulations


Newswise – Scientists at Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology have used the most detailed supercomputer simulations to date to reveal an alternative explanation for the origin of the Moon, with a giant impact immediately placing a body similar to the Moon orbiting the Earth.

The researchers simulated hundreds of different impacts, varying the angle and speed of the collision as well as the masses and rotations of the two colliding bodies in their search for scenarios that could explain the current Earth-Moon system. These calculations were performed using SWIFT open-source simulation code, running on the DiRAC Memory Intensive (“COSMA”) service, hosted by Durham University on behalf of the DiRAC High-Performance Computing facility.

The extra computing power revealed that low-resolution simulations can miss important aspects of large-scale collisions, allowing researchers to discover features that were not accessible for previous studies. Only the high-resolution simulations produced the moon-like satellite, and the extra detail showed how richer its outer layers were in material from Earth.

If much of the Moon formed immediately after the giant impact, it could also mean that less melted during formation than in standard theories where the Moon grew into a disk of debris around Earth. . Depending on the details of later solidification, these theories should predict different internal structures for the Moon.

Study co-author Vincent Eke said: “This formation pathway could help explain the similarity in isotopic composition between lunar rocks returned by Apollo astronauts and the Earth’s mantle. It may also be there. have observable consequences on the thickness of the lunar crust, which would allow us to better understand the type of collision that took place.

Moreover, they discovered that even when a satellite passes so close to the Earth that one would expect it to be torn apart by the “tidal forces” of Earth’s gravity, the satellite may in fact not only to survive but also to be thrust into a wider orbit, safe from future destruction.

The study’s lead researcher, Jacob Kegerreis, said: “This opens up a whole new range of possible starting points for the evolution of the Moon. We embarked on this project without knowing exactly what the results of these very high resolution simulations would be. , in addition to the big reveal that standard resolutions can give you the wrong answers, it was very exciting that the new results could include an orbiting satellite resembling the Moon.”

The Moon is thought to have formed from a collision 4.5 billion years ago between young Earth and a Mars-sized object called Theia. Most theories create the Moon by gradual accumulation of debris from this impact. However, this has been disputed by measurements of moon rocks showing that they are similar in composition to Earth’s mantle, while the impact produces debris mainly from Theia.

This immediate satellite scenario opens up new possibilities for the initial lunar orbit as well as the predicted composition and internal structure of the Moon. The many lunar missions to come should reveal new clues about the type of giant impact that led to the Moon, which in turn will tell us about the history of the Earth itself.

The research team included scientists from NASA Ames Research Center and the University of Glasgow, UK, and their simulation results were published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The research was partly funded by a DiRAC Director’s Discretionary Time Grant and a grant from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

About Durham University

Durham University is a world-renowned teaching and research center based in the historic city of Durham in the United Kingdom.

We are a collegiate university committed to inspiring our people to do exceptional things in Durham and around the world.

We conduct groundbreaking research that improves lives globally and are ranked among the top 100 global universities with an international reputation in research and education (QS World University Rankings 2023).

We are a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive UK universities and are consistently ranked in the top 10 in national rankings (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, Guardian University Guide and The Complete University Guide).

For more information about Durham University visit: www.durham.ac.uk/about/

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