Artist's conception of the giant impact hypothesis
Several mechanisms have been suggested for the Moon's formation. The formation of the Moon is believed to have occurred 4.527 ± 0.010 billion years ago, about 30–50 million years after the origin of the Solar System.
Early speculation proposed that the Moon broke off from the Earth's crust because of centrifugal forces, leaving a basin – presumed to be the Pacific Ocean – behind as a scar. This idea, however, would require too great an initial spin of the Earth; and, even had this been possible, the process should have resulted in the Moon's orbit following Earth's equatorial plane. This is not the case.
Other speculation has centered on the Moon being formed elsewhere and subsequently being captured by Earth's gravity. However, the conditions believed necessary for such a mechanism to work, such as an extended atmosphere of the Earth in order to dissipate the energy of the passing Moon, are improbable.
The co-formation hypothesis proposes that the Earth and the Moon formed together at the same time and place from the primordial accretion disk. The Moon would have formed from material surrounding the proto-Earth, similar to the formation of the planets around the Sun. Some suggest that this hypothesis fails to adequately explain the depletion of metallic iron in the Moon.
A major deficiency in all these hypotheses is that they cannot readily account for the high angular momentum of the Earth–Moon system.
Giant Impact hypothesis
Main article: Giant impact hypothesis
The prevailing hypothesis today is that the Earth–Moon system formed as a result of a giant impact. A Mars-sized body (labelled "Theia") is believed to have hit the proto-Earth, blasting sufficient material into orbit around the proto-Earth to form the Moon through accretion. As accretion is the process by which all planetary bodies are believed to have formed, giant impacts are thought to have affected most if not all planets. Computer simulations modelling a giant impact are consistent with measurements of the angular momentum of the Earth–Moon system, as well as the small size of the lunar core. Unresolved questions regarding this theory concern the determination of the relative sizes of the proto-Earth and Theia and of how much material from these two bodies formed the Moon.
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