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Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Evolution of the Moon

The Moon is the only natural satellite of the Earth, and the fifth largest satellite in the Solar System. It is the largest natural satellite of a planet in the Solar System relative to the size of its primary, having a quarter the diameter of Earth and 181 its mass. The Moon is the second densest satellite after Io, a satellite of Jupiter. It is in synchronous rotation with Earth, always showing the same face; the near side is marked with dark volcanic maria among the bright ancient crustal highlands and prominent impact craters. It is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun, although its surface is actually very dark, with a similar reflectance to coal. Its prominence in the sky and its regular cycle of phases have, since ancient times, made the Moon an important cultural influence on languagecalendarsart and mythology. The Moon's gravitational influence produces the ocean tides (read this post) and the minute lengthening of the day. The Moon's current orbital distance, about thirty times the diameter of the Earth, causes it to appear almost the same size in the sky as the Sun, allowing it to cover the Sun nearly precisely in total solar eclipses. (font: Wikipedia)
About the origin of the Moon (Harvard papers):
Materials for teachers:

A great video about the Moon's evolution from NASA (LRO):

Reading of interest:

High-Resolution Simulations of a Moon-Forming Impact and Post-Impact Evolution

Keiichi Wada (1), Eiichiro Kokubo (1), Junichiro Makino (2) ((1) National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, (2) University of Tokyo)
In order to examine the ``giant impact hypothesis'' for the Moon formation, we run the first grid-based, high-resolution hydrodynamic simulations for an impact between proto-Earth and a proto-planet. The spatial resolution for the impact-generated disk is greatly improved from previous particle-based simulations. This allows us to explore fine structures of a circumterrestrial debris disk and its long-term evolution. We find that in order to form a debris disk from which a lunar-sized satellite can be accumulated, the impact must result in a disk of mostly liquid or solid debris, where pressure is not effective, well before the accumulation process starts. If the debris is dominated by vapor gas, strong spiral shocks are generated, and therefore the circumterrestrial disk cannot survive more than several days. This suggests that there could be an appropriate mass range for terrestrial planets to harbor a large moon as a result of giant impacts, since vaporization during an impact depends on the impact energy.
font arXiv [PDF]
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