Astronomers say they have come a step closer to understanding how the Moon could have formed from a gigantic collision between early Earth and another massive object 4.5 billion years ago.
Scientists ran supercomputer simulations to crash a planet the size of Mars called Theia into early Earth.
These simulations produced a revolving body that could potentially evolve into a moon-like object.
While the researchers, led by Durham University, are cautious to say this isn’t definitive proof of the moon’s origin, they add that it could be a promising stage to understand how the celestial body came to be.
The findings are published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society journal.
The Moon is believed to have formed during a collision between the early Earth and Theia.
Scientists believe Theia may have been an ancient planet in our solar system about the size of Mars.
Researchers ran simulations to track material from the early Earth and Theia for four days after their collision.
They then ran other simulations after spinning Theia around like a pool ball.
The simulated early Earth collision yielded different results depending on the magnitude and direction of Theia’s initial rotation.
At one extreme, the collision merged the two objects, while at the other extreme, there was a collision.
The simulation where no spin was added to Theia produced a self-gravitating lump of material about 80% of the moon’s mass, while another lunar-like object was created when a small amount of spin was added.
The resulting clump, which settles in orbit around Earth after the impact, would grow by sweeping up the disc of debris around our planet.
It has a small iron core, similar to that of the moon, with an outer layer of materials made from the early Earth and Theia, the astronomers discovered.
Recent analysis of lunar samples collected from the Apollo space missions suggests that a mixture of early Earth and impactor material could have formed the Moon.
Lead author Sergio Ruiz-Bonilla, a PhD researcher at Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, said what could have happened when the early Earth was hit by a massive object all those billions of years ago.
“Excitingly, some of our simulations produced this orbiting mass of material that is relatively not much smaller than the Moon, with a disc of additional material around the Earth after impact that absorbs the mass over the course of the Earth. time would help grow in mass.
“I wouldn’t say this is the moon, but it is certainly a very interesting place to look further.”
The high-resolution simulations were performed using the open-source simulation code SWIFT.
They were performed on the DiRAC Memory Intensive (“COSMA”) service hosted by Durham University on behalf of the DiRAC High-Performance Computing facility.