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New Evidence of How the Moon Formed

Jun 05, 2014 04:19 PM EDT
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New evidence has surfaced that supports the theory that the Moon was formed when a very young Earth collided with another planet-sized astronomical body billions of years ago.

Because the Earth does not appear to have any evidence of having a Moon-sized chuck taken out of it, researchers theorized that the colliding astronomical body - given the name Theia - must have added more of its mass to the collision, creating most of the Moon.

However, past analyses of related space debris and Moon samples have shown an inconclusive similarity between the Earth and the Moon, threatening the hypothetical existence of Theia.

Now, researchers from Germany analyzing Earth and fresh Moon samples have identified subtle but key differences in ratios of the isotopes of oxygen, titanium, silicon and other elements. According to researchers, these isotope ratios are a lot like snow-flakes. They can be similar, but no one ratio reading per celestial body should be the same - unless, of course, they originated from the same initial mass.

"The differences are small and difficult to detect, but they are there," said Dr. Daneiel Herwartz, who led the analysis of samples provided by NASA from the Apollo 11, 12, and 16 missions.

Herwartz and his colleagues used newly advanced sample perpetration techniques in order to get the most sensitive and accurate reading attainable via stable isotope ratio mass spectrometry. According to the researcher, the detected differences means two things.

"Firstly we can now be reasonably sure that the Giant collision took place. Secondly, it gives us an idea of the geochemistry of Theia," Herwartz explained in a statement.

Using this information, "we can now predict the geochemical and isotopic composition of the Moon, because the present Moon is a mixture of Theia and the early Earth. The next goal is to find out how much material of Theia is in the Moon," he added.

Most models of the Great collision theorize that 70 percent or more of the Moon is made up of Theia material. However, this new data seems to suggest that an even 50/50 mix with Earth material is possible.

These findings are scheduled to be published in the journal Science on June 6, and will be presented at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in California on 11th June.

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