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Moon Was Created From 'Head-On Collision' Between Earth And Forming Planet

First Posted: Jan 29, 2016 12:54 PM EST

We've all heard that the moon was formed from a massive collision between Earth and another planetary body. Recently, a team of UCLA scientists found that the moon was actually formed from a violent, "head-on collision" between the early Earth and a "planetary embryo" called Theia, about 100 million years after the Earth was formed.

Many scientists believed that Earth and Theia collided at an angle of 45 degrees or more, where there was a massive side-swipe collision. However, the UCLA study indicates evidence of a head-on collision.

The team analyzed seven rocks from the moon that were gathered by the Apollo missions along with six volcanic rocks from the Earth's mantle, five from Hawaii and one from Arizona. The rocks' oxygen atoms were held the clues, which the researchers needed to reconstruct the massive impact.

"We don't see any difference between the Earth's and the moon's oxygen isotopes; they're indistinguishable," Edward Young, lead author of the study, said in a news release. Young claimed that the oxygen in rocks on Earth and our moon contain the same chemical signatures.

The researchers claimed that if Earth and Theia had collided in a side-swipe, then most of the moon would be composed of Theia. Therefore, Earth and the moon would have distinctive oxygen isotopes. However, with a head-on collision, Earth and the moon would have a similar chemical composition.

"Theia was thoroughly mixed into both the Earth and the moon, and evenly dispersed between them. This explains why we don't see a different signature of Theia in the moon versus the Earth," Young said.

The findings of this study were published in Science.

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