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In 2001, scientists began discovering that terrestrial and lunar rocks had a lot in common: the two bodies possess many of the same chemical isotopes. (Isotopes of an element have different numbers of neutrons from each other. These subvarieties are identified by different numbers; for example, potassium-39 or potassium-40). Isotopes can act as geologic fingerprints, because prior work has suggested that planetary bodies that formed in different parts of the solar system generally have different isotopic compositions.
These discoveries threw the giant-impact hypothesis into crisis because previous computer simulations of the collision predicted that 60 to 80 percent of the material that coalesced into the moon came from Theia rather than Earth. The likelihood that Theia happened to have virtually the same isotopic composition as Earth seemed extremely unlikely.
The original giant-impact model suggested that a relatively low-energy collision melted part of Earth and the whole of Theia, flinging some of the molten debris outward. One relatively new model, proposed in 2007, starts with a low-energy impact just like the original model, but adds an atmosphere of silicate vapor around Earth and the disk of debris that ends up forming the moon. This model suggests that this vapor shroud helps Earth and the disk exchange material before the moon emerges from the debris.
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There is a more serious problem for fervent believers in the lunar lunacy effect: no evidence that it exists. Florida International University psychologist James Rotton, Colorado State University astronomer Roger Culver and University of Saskatchewan psychologist Ivan W. Kelly have searched far and wide for any consistent behavioral effects of the full moon. In all cases, they have come up empty-handed. By combining the results of multiple studies and treating them as though they were one huge study—a statistical procedure called meta-analysis—they have found that full moons are entirely unrelated to a host of events, including crimes, suicides, psychiatric problems and crisis center calls.
When there is a full moon and something decidedly odd happens, we usually notice it, tell others about it and remember it. We do so because such co-occurrences fit with our preconceptions. Indeed, one study showed that psychiatric nurses who believed in the lunar effect wrote more notes about patients’ peculiar behavior than did nurses who did not believe in this effect. In contrast, when there is a full moon and nothing odd happens, this nonevent quickly fades from our memory. As a result of our selective recall, we erroneously perceive an association between full moons and myriad bizarre events.