The Earth's moon was formed inside a hot cosmic cloud of molten rock, according to a new theory, which could help scientists explain some long-standing questions about the chemical makeup of the moon and its similarity to the Earth in so many ways.
For years, scientists believed that the Earth's moon came into existence billions of years ago from the debris scattered following the collision between the Earth and Theia, a Mars-sized ancient planet of the early Solar System. The debris that was made up of molten metals and rock eventually fused together to form the moon.
That, at least, is the current conventional explanation.
The new work explains features of the moon that are hard to resolve with current ideas
However, the rock samples collected by astronauts during Apollo missions revealed that the moon is chemically almost the same as the Earth. Many scientists then argued that moon's chemical composition should be different from that of the Earth if the moon was formed following the impact of Theia.
"The new work explains features of the moon that are hard to resolve with current ideas," said Dr Sarah Stewart, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California. Davis proposed the new theory with Simon Lock, a graduate student in the department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University.
"The moon is chemically almost the same as the Earth, but with some differences. This is the first model that can match the pattern of the moon's composition".
Stewart's theory is based on the idea of a doughnut-like mass of molten and vaporised rocks, dubbed synestia
Stewart's theory is based on the idea of a doughnut-like mass of molten and vaporised rocks, dubbed synestia, which formed following a collision of planet-sized bodies. In synestia, molten and vaporised rocks spin (with a great speed) around the body in the centre.
Synestia lasts only for a few hundred years. As it cools, it shrinks down to eventually form a molten planet.
According to Stewart, in case of the Earth and the moon, a synestia was formed after a celestial object collided with the Earth. As the cosmic doughnut of vaporised rocks cooled, the magma rain in its outer boundaries fused together to form what would eventually be the moon. The Earth came into existence about 1,000 years after the formation of moon.
According to Nautilus, Stewart has been awarded $625,000 by the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for her new explanation of the moon's formation.
The findings of the study are published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
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