Our pioneering scientists from the Institute for Computational Cosmology used supercomputer simulations to reveal an alternate explanation for the Moon’s origin, as a satellite placed immediately into orbit following a giant impact between Earth and a Mars-sized body.
The researchers created the highest resolution simulations yet produced to study the Moon’s origin 4.5 billion years ago.
They used the SWIFT open-source simulation code to run high-resolution simulations of hundreds of collisions at different impact angles, speeds, planet spins, masses and more.
The simulations were carried out on the DiRAC Memory Intensive service (“COSMA”), hosted by Durham University on behalf of the DiRAC High-Performance Computing facility.
This extra computational power revealed that lower-resolution simulations can miss out on important aspects of large-scale collisions, allowing researchers to see qualitatively new behaviours emerge in a way that wasn’t possible in previous studies.
The immediate-satellite scenario opens up new possibilities for the initial lunar orbit and internal properties.
This could help to explain unsolved mysteries like the Moon’s tilted orbit away from Earth’s equator; or could produce an early Moon that is not fully molten, which some researchers propose could be a better match for its thin crust.
The researchers also discovered that this directly formed satellite might help to alleviate the highly debated problem of the Moon’s Earth-like isotopic composition, with larger amounts of proto-Earth material in the outer layers of the Moon.
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