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The stark difference between the Moon’s heavily-cratered farside and the lower-lying open basins of the Earth-facing nearside has puzzled scientists for decades.
Now, new evidence about the Moon’s crust suggests the differences were caused by a wayward dwarf planet colliding with the Moon in the early history of the solar system. A report on the new research has been published in AGU’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.
The mystery of the Moon’s two faces began in the Apollo era when the first views of its farside revealed the surprising differences. Measurements made by the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission in 2012 filled in more details about the structure of the Moon — including how its crust is thicker and includes an extra layer of material on its farside.
There are a number of ideas that have been used to try and explain the Moon’s asymmetry. One is that there were once two moons orbiting Earth and they merged in the very early days of the Moon’s formation. Another idea is that a large body, perhaps a young dwarf planet, found itself in an orbit around the Sun that put it on a collision course with the Moon. This latter giant impact idea would have happened somewhat later than a merging-moons scenario and after the Moon had formed a solid crust,
The new findings from GRAIL gave Zhu’s team of researchers a clearer target to aim for with the computer simulations they used to test different early-Moon impact scenarios. The study’s authors ran 360 computer simulations of giant impacts with the Moon to find out whether such an event millions of years ago could reproduce the crust of today’s Moon as detected by GRAIL.
They found the best fit for today’s asymmetrical Moon is a large body, about 480 miles (780 kilometers) in diameter, smacking into the nearside of the Moon at 14,000 miles per hour (22,500 kilometers per hour). That would be the equivalent of an object a bit smaller than the dwarf planet Ceres moving at a speed about one-quarter as fast as the meteor pebbles and sand grains that burn up as “shooting stars” in Earth’s atmosphere. Another good fit for the impact combinations the team modeled is a slightly smaller, 450-mile (720-kilometer) diameter, object hitting at a mildly faster 15,000 miles per hour (24,500 kilometers per hour).
The giant impact model also provides a good explanation for the unexplained differences in isotopes of potassium, phosphorus and rare-earth elements like tungsten-182 between the surfaces of the Earth and Moon, the researchers explain. These elements could have come from the giant impact, which would have added that material to the Moon after its formation, according to the study’s authors.
Maybe this idea has been around but I hadn't seen it publicized until now.
originally posted by: RadioRobert
So nothing exactly earth-shattering (moon-shattering?), as these ideas have been tossed about for ages
Heat differences meant impacts left larger, shallower basins on the lunar surface that faces Earth
Simulations showed that if the largest dark area on the near side — the plain of volcanic rock known as Oceanus Procellarum — was hundreds of degrees hotter than crust on the far side, impacts there would produce basins up to twice as large as impacts from similar-sized bodies on the far side (see video below).
Brown University astronomer Peter Schultz announced today (July 20, 2016) that the object that slammed into the moon 3.8 billion years ago to create the great, dark lava plain we call Mare Imbrium was protoplanet-sized. That is, it was big – about twice as big and 10 times more massive than previous estimates – about 150 miles (250 km) in diameter. Schultz bases his estimate on hypervelocity impact experiments performed using the Vertical Gun Range at the NASA Ames Research Center, and on computer modeling. Schultz, professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown, said in a statement:
Schultz's hypothesis seems to suggest multiple impacts, maybe one for each mare, which is what I always thought so I like his hypothesis which matches mine.
originally posted by: RadioRobert
So this earlier study suggested a somewhat smaller impactor than suggested by this latest one.
And he said his work suggests that – given the sizes of other impact basins in the moon, Mars and Mercury – the early solar system must have been well stocked with protoplanet-sized objects, which he calls “the lost giants.”...
Schultz and his colleagues went on to use similar methods to estimate the sizes of impactors related to several other basins on the moon created by oblique impacts...
Combining these new estimates with the fact that there are even larger impact basins on the moon and other planets, Schultz concludes that protoplanet-sized asteroids may have been common in the early solar system. He said:
"The large basins we see on the moon and elsewhere are the record of lost giants."